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An Overhaul + Weekly/Monthly/Whateverly Digests 8.25.22
Freeing my voice from the vortex
I launched my Substack a year ago with the intention of sending newsletters biweekly. When that didn’t work out, I settled for monthly. When that didn’t work out…
That isn’t to diminish all the other things that worked out that year. I’ve always said that 2021 was the year that I went from surviving to living. After hitting rock bottom in November 2020, I had decided to turn my life around. I got a head start on freelance writing, and more good things kept coming as I started college IRL.
A part of why I never shut up about how wonderful my life is and how thankful I am is because I see all the odds stacked against me, particularly in regard to my writing career. For every time I’ve managed to get my voice out there, there have been hundreds of moments where I was silenced by my own mental blocks.
Whenever I had time away from homework and whatnot, I did everything I could do to fine-tune my online presence. I updated bios, curated vibes, and agonized over my “brand,” not because I wanted to fit in, but because I wanted to signal what I was all about, as loudly as possible. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to write more than a few paragraphs about my life, which is literally all I’ve ever wanted to do (and also, the only thing I actually know how to do and have a chance of succeeding at, as far as Content™️ goes). I’ve barely logged on, other than to transfer data back and forth between Substack and Medium, and to revise my entries from months ago, hoping that no one would notice. Ultimately, I wound up deleting a bunch of blog posts from both platforms.
I wanted, more than anything in the world, to share so many things with you all. So. Many. Things. But I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
I knew that my disability played a role. Distractibility, and a low threshold for cognitive strain, are characteristics of ADHD that commonly lead to procrastination. And I was certain that disorganization — arguably my most prominent symptom — contributed to my creative block. I regularly spent more than 36 hours in total writing a 2000-word piece, and I still had editors slashing entire paragraphs, novice publications rejecting me, and close friends glazing over what I intended as explicitly stated, uncryptic messages. It was maddening.
But what made these symptoms truly debilitating was my own limited approach to creating. Behind my irregular publishing schedule was a vicious cycle that brought out the absolute worst in my brain.
What is this cycle you speak of? You ask. Let me walk you through the 5 steps:
There’s something you need to get off my chest, but you can’t seem to sit down and write about it — at least, not for more than 5 minutes. You keep pushing it back, and some more, with vague excuses like:
Give me ONE more hour/day/week, OK? Next hour/day/week will be different!
It’s still early, why rush when I’ve got a whole day ahead of me?
It’s getting late now; I’ll do it tomorrow.
After an excruciating few weeks, the unspoken thoughts in your mind reach a critical mass. You can’t take it anymore. Finally, you manage to sit down with a new Google Doc. When your momentum flows, so do the thoughts you bottled up for so long.
The next thing you know, you’re inundated with 10+ pages of loosely related thoughts, incomplete sentences, and superfluous “background” info that take up half of the manuscript. You realize that you could easily write at least 3 separate articles with what you have so far, but you convince yourself anyway that you could just write 1 very long article. You don’t want to save your thoughts for later, when you’ve already held onto them for too long, and if you don’t do this now, you’re looking at months or even years of waiting.
By the time you’re on your second draft, you’re seriously exhausted, and as the novelty wears off, your creative spark starts to dwindle. At this point, you’re zombie-walking towards the finish line, and depending on how long it takes, you may even find that you no longer resonate with half of what you’re saying in this manuscript.
You feel a sense of closure upon hitting publish, but that doesn’t last long. When you log back in weeks later, your refreshed pair of eyes catch a multitude of flaws: awkward phrasing, insufficient explanations, and a missed opportunity to use that perfect word you saved on Dictionary.com. Everybody likes to say that it’s just one piece but that implies the existence of plenty other pieces, and you know that your publishing schedule is precarious at best. So you quietly edit and delete anything that doesn’t feel quite right, and promise yourself that this will be the last time. Your fear paralyzes you, and the cycle continues.
This is unsustainable.
No shit, sherlock.
Every time I expected a single post to take on more than what it’s capable of, for it to encapsulate every one of my (in the words of Ashlee Simpson) million subtleties, I crashed and burned. My effort to write more clearly stalled, because I was rattling off a stupendous amount of information, without fully explaining any of it. I began to worry that no one would understand me unless I spell all it out: this is what I’m talking about, and this is what I’m not talking about. This is what I mean, and this is what I don’t mean. Armored in my cold, clinical didacticism, I lost touch with my genuine voice. And my dignity crumbled, every time I wagged my fingers at my readers after I inevitably led them astray with my abrupt transitions and my long-winded tangents. I felt like the worst kind of writer that everyone hates — a double whammy of boring and unintelligible.
The other day, I was looking through my notes, and came across a passage that captured this sense of empty freneticism that’s plagued me for years:
I was choking on my words. They always say, don’t bite off more than you could chew off, but they didn’t know what it was like to be starving.
Now that I think about it, the relationship I have with writing reminds me of the dysfunctional relationship that some people have with food. It’s a common struggle: you feel bad about yourself, you decide to on a crash diet, and find yourself eating past the point of fullness when you finally allow yourself to eat.
Now, I know that I might get flak for comparing a writer’s block to something so closely associated with eating disorders, which is obviously a serious matter. But my point is that if we don’t honor our hunger, real or symbolic, it will take over. When we repress our instincts, we give them more power to reign over us. By allowing this cycle to continue, I was psychologically depriving myself.
Written expression replenishes my soul, restores my faith in myself, and helps me with my disability — in fact, so much so that I’d consider it a crucial part of my regimen, right alongside ADA accommodations, therapy, and medication. Writing and publishing is stressful, but so is not writing and publishing. If I’m not being honest with myself, who will? I’m putting my big girl pants on and choosing my hard.
So join me as I take on my wildest challenge yet: writing bite-sized articles at regular intervals.
With that, I’m officially reinstating my weekly/monthly/whateverly digest. You can expect sincere, half-baked thoughts, and a lot of behind-the-scenes, meta- stuff. Delivered to your mailbox, fresh from my restless mind.
What I’ve been up to:
Last month I signed a contract to write for For/By, Understood’s publication that houses “a collection of stories for everyone, shared by people who learn and think differently.” Understood is a comprehensive resource for ADHD, learning disabilities, and/or related conditions. They do a great job of explaining not just the what, but the why and how behind common challenges faced by neurodivergent people. Their team is comprised of neurodivergent adults, parents of neurodivergent kids, psychologists, and special education teachers, who can offer insights beyond what is currently captured by “official” (or “unofficial,” for that matter) diagnostic criteria. Understood is also working to expand their focus from school-aged children to adults, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
My thirst trap debut (AKA my brand partnership with Liberare)
I’m also now working with Liberare, a disability-inclusive lingerie/loungewear brand (use my affiliate code BYASAKAMAE for 10% off!). They sent me a cute chemise, so I decided to flaunt it in their Disability Pride Month campaign. Look at how well this turned out, and don’t skip the caption:
What I dig*:
Amie McNee (@inspiredtowrite) on zooming out
Amie McNee is one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. She has no shortage of insightful and reassuring words for anyone who creates in this Extremely Online atmosphere. Writing this entry reminded me of her post from last year:
This is encouraging. My hope is that someday, I’ll get to a point where I won’t cringe so hard when I notice a flaw in one of my blog posts because they feel so granular. This is what I’m working for, and if I have to fake it till you make it, so be it.
Demi Lovato released their rock album, HOLY FVCK, last Friday, and I think it’s great — cathartic and sometimes raunchy. "Substance," the second single from the album, has already been on repeat for weeks, because the lyrics are SO REAL (I actually referenced it in an upcoming article about making lifestyle changes while having ADHD). Now that the full album is out, I’ll also be replaying "Dead Friends" and “City of Angels.”
*Features ≠ endorsement of every single thing OP/artist/author has done
What does a “genuine voice” ~actually~ look like?
I don’t know what my signature writing style is. I mean, I feel like I embody so many different auras. Sometimes I’m the grubby man-child protagonist of an aughts tragi-comedy. Sometimes I’m the Insta-therapist who thinks the answer to everything is to hold space and sit with it. Sometimes I’m a teenage girl in 2015 who wears space buns, reads Rookie, and does slam poetry. I’m trying to figure out what delivery comes most naturally to me, but my brain insists that different things need to be articulated differently, and sometimes, I feel a bit disintegrated, even though I have a strong self of sense overall. I have a feeling that if I keep practicing, the fragments will fall into place and turn into something striking.
Note to self:
So, you’ve decided that you’re going to write more regularly. You’re excited about this new chapter and you’ve told everyone. Now what?
You’re going to change the way you run things.
If you think something is beyond the scope of an article, LET IT GO. The best way to honor a pressing thought is to give it its own space, where it can expand and flourish. This is your little corner of the Internet. Own it, and don’t shrink yourself down.
Who cares if your post is a little short and choppy? Write as many as you want. Your followers come here because they want to get to know you. Don’t be afraid to say, “Going off of what I wrote here….” or “More on this here…” Hyperlinks exist for a reason: use them.
Also, having an unconventional narrative structure is better than having no apparent narrative structure. You see connections others don’t, and sometimes your thoughts just won’t jibe with a traditional essay format. Sort these into sections, lists, or a screenplay dialogue.
Copywriting skills aren’t just about formality, and you know that. If you need to emphasize a sentence, it’s OK to bold it. Honestly, do whatever you want. Symbols. TL;DRs. Meme formats. Again, this is your little corner; nothing is off limit.
Do what you’ve gotta do to get your voice out, and don’t look back.
I get it: you read The Atlantic for AP Lang once and since then you romanticized this particular brand of formality: drop caps, dense blocks of text, not a trace of colloquialism. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you worry that you’re giving in if you stray from these archaic ideals. But don’t let that tie you down.
It’s 2022. People are getting book deals from making 15-second TikToks. One of the most successful journalists today is also a meme page admin. The possibilities are endless. Also if you’re truly committed to living in the moment, stop trying so hard to be timeless.
Most importantly, you’re better at being you than being anyone else — I promise. Life isn’t always glamorous and you always get by finding practical solutions, starting with the basics, and always aiming to show up, albeit imperfectly. It’s more than OK for your writing, and your personal blog of all things, to reflect that journey.
Until next time,