Why You Need to Give a Voice to Your Pain

For your writing to transform you and others, you need to be willing to go where it hurts.

But it’s really scary.

Writing into your pain feels raw and vulnerable. It feels like you’re exposing yourself to the world. But there is so much power in writing into your pain.

When you give your pain a voice, you can take positive action to treat the source of the pain.

I’ve been posting on my Instagram account recently. I choose a photo I’ve taken and edited, most of which are of sunrises, sunsets, the sky, and beautiful places. Then I write a little thought or a poem.

Today, I felt raw. I ate cookies and cream ice cream straight out of the container, leaning over the kitchen counter, feeling abandoned by my friends.

I laid in bed, looking through my photographs, wondering what I could possibly write from this dark, bloated place. And then it occurred to me — I could write through the pain. Instead of creating an inspiring post, I could share my feelings in the moment.

So I wrote this poem:

I just stood in the kitchen, eating cookies and cream out of the container.
I’m in bed now, my body complaining.
My back aches from my growing pregnant belly.
My stomach feels bloated with swallowed emotion.
I am shattered.
I wish I could fill myself with love, mother myself, soothe myself like a child.
I’m all out of love today.
But there’s more ice cream left in the container,
Smooth, sweet, and creamy as a cloud.

As soon as I wrote this poem, I felt an opening.

Shining the light onto my emotions and actions helped me understand what I was feeling, and instead of curling into a ball on the couch, eating the rest of the ice cream, and watching the newest episode of This is Us, I am here, writing this blog post.

When you give your pain a voice, you can see where it is coming from, and instead of drowning it with ice cream or alcohol, you begin to understand how to approach and change your experience.

Every time I’ve allowed myself to go there — to put words to a painful memory or emotion — I’ve felt a release. Suddenly my pain shrinks from being a giant monster. Instead, it becomes something tangible, something I can explore.

After I wrote that poem, I had the courage to reach out and tell my friends how I felt. Our relationship can now heal.

When you give your pain a voice, you allow yourself to heal.

When I was in college, I dated a man whose mother suffered from manic-depression. For his entire childhood, he didn’t know what emotions his mom would hit him with each day. As a result, he felt acutely uncomfortable every time I tried to express a strong emotion. Even if the emotion was positive, he seemed unable to deal with it.

I learned to hold my feelings inside. Sometimes I felt like they were knives inside of my body, cutting me on their way out.

When we broke up, I slowly healed and allowed myself to feel my emotions again. I frequently tell my husband, It’s okay to feel the way you feel.

But there’s still this lingering feeling of Just don’t go there. It’s better to be happy. Be positive. Look on the bright side.

Even though I’ve encouraged my writing workshop participants to write their tough stories, I often shy away from them. I would rather people see me as a positive person. I would rather see myself as a positive person.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

How often have you choked down a negative emotion, pushed away a tough story, because you didn’t want to face it?

But by ignoring negative emotions and stories, we don’t give ourselves a chance to heal. Instead, our stories become wounds, festering under bandages, without a chance to be exposed to the air and scab over.

When you give your pain a voice, you allow yourself to heal.Click To Tweet

Giving your pain a voice lets you tell better stories.

Let’s face it — without pain, there are no good stories.

I volunteer at The Moth every month, and the best stories are the ones that zoom in to the details. When a storyteller is brave enough to own their pain and to give it life with their words, the entire audience can feel their ultimate transformation.

The best books and movies always contain pain.

Imagine Harry Potter without Voldemort and the Dursleys.

Imagine Katniss Everdeen growing up in Minnesota instead of District 12.

Imagine Frodo Baggins without the ring.

Every great hero has to weather pain and overcome it. Pain sits at the center of all great stories.

One of the first steps to writing great stories about your own life is breathing into your pain, giving it words, letting it be seen. When your readers can feel your pain, they can also feel the healing that followed it. Without the pain, your stories lack depth. You don’t let your readers into your world in the same way.

Giving your pain a voice allows you to connect with people on a deeper level.

Some of the best, most impactful blog posts I’ve read have been about pain. They are the posts I remember years after I read them, because they feel so real and visceral. It’s a relief to read about someone who is struggling and who isn’t afraid to share their struggle.

It doesn’t make the writer seem inferior — it makes them seem more real.

My friend Rachel used to lead women’s writing workshops in Miami.

The women I met in her writing groups are still my closest friends in Miami, because we trusted each other enough to write and share true stories about our lives. Stories about struggle, anguish, pain, happiness, celebration, coming alive. Stories about everything.

Each time someone dared to write about a deep pain, there was always a woman in the group who could relate. By the end of our sessions, we all felt so much less alone.

How do you give a voice to your pain?

It’s easy for me to write that it’s important to give your pain a voice, but how do you do it? How do you gather your courage and write the tough things?

Focus on the concrete details.

One way is to ground yourself in the concrete details of your life. At the same time you were feeling pain, things were happening outside your body. Write about those things.

My relationship with my college boyfriend was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. But I don’t have to enter that story through the barbed wire of my depression and feelings of inadequacy. Instead, I can write about sitting in my white Nissan Sentra, clutching my sparkly blue phone to my ear, talking to him during his time in Israel. I can capture the slow descent of dusk as I tried to weave the fragments of our conversation into more than it was.

Write about what actually happened.

I did this when I wrote about the ice cream. I was curled in bed, feeling like I never wanted to move again, and then I was able to come out of myself enough to recount the actual details of what happened.

I didn’t write, I just ate my emotions away.

Instead, I wrote, I ate cookies and cream ice cream out of the container while leaning over the counter.

Writing what actually happened removed the sharp tinge of judgement.

Even if you’re writing about something much more painful, recounting the facts will help you approach your pain. But don’t just recount a series of events. Go into each moment. Grab the details.

Write about how the experience felt in your body.

It’s so easy to get swept up in writing about emotions.:

I was upset when my boyfriend didn’t make time to celebrate my senior project with me.

Instead, write about what happened in your body.

I couldn’t believe it. My senior project was approved! I ran outside, looking for my boyfriend, but I didn’t see him anywhere. He knew that I would be done and I thought he would be there to celebrate. As I searched around the quad, I felt a warm, heavy feeling creeping in behind my eyes. My shoulders sagged and I dragged myself to his apartment. I could already feel heat rising in my chest as I knocked on his door.

Doesn’t that give you a more visceral sense of what happened?

Give yourself time to heal if you need it.

I broke up with my college boyfriend in 2005, almost 13 years ago. I didn’t write about it until 2014. For years after our relationship ended, I held on to the pain of it, a knotted mass of emotions in my chest. Maybe writing about it earlier would have helped me heal, but I wasn’t ready. Sometimes fresh pain isn’t ready to have a voice yet. You need to heal first, and that’s okay.

If you start writing into your pain, and it feels too hard to bear, ease off. You’ll come back to it when you’re ready.

The next time you find yourself hunched over a container of ice cream or a 6 pack of beer in an attempt to drown your emotions, I hope you consider writing instead.

Write into your pain. Give it a voice. You can only heal the pain that’s been exposed to the light.

How to write your way out of the chokehold of shoulds

Two of the most damaging words in the English language are “I should.”

I should be able to…
I should be more like…
I should be focusing on…
I should feel…

I should. I should. I should.

All of the shoulds are so loud at times that they drown out the quiet voice of wisdom inside of you, and the voice that longs to burst out onto the page.

How many shoulds have you felt today? Each should is like a manacle, chaining you to a reality that isn’t your own.

Do you ever feel like you're suffocated under a mountain of shoulds? Read this.Click To Tweet

I too am plagued by shoulds.

Here are a few of them:

  • I should work more.
  • I should be more nurturing.
  • I should love what I do every day.
  • I should be making more money.
  • I should wake up earlier.
  • I should be more disciplined.

These, and many other shoulds, cluster around me everyday, shouting so loud I can barely hear the sweet wise voice that just wants me to love myself, to be present, to be gentle with myself.

What if, instead of listening to the shoulds, you (we) could listen to that small, brilliant voice inside? The voice that wants to play, to explore, to just accept yourself as the unique, flawed, beautiful person you are?

When I’m able to listen to my intuition, and to write with my honest, clear voice, it gives me the courage to pursue the life I want.

Instead of tiptoeing around my dreams in fear, it allows me to boldly tread toward them. Even more importantly, it brings me immense joy in my present life.

But how do you silence the shoulds and listen to the voice that’s crouched inside of you, singing sweetly in a tune all its own? Here are a few things that help me.

1. Write about the present moment.

One of the best things you can do to silence the voice of should is to give voice to what is.

When I write “what is,” I mean what is actually, physically, surrounding you. The coffee cup next to your laptop, steaming into the air. Your dog curled up on the couch. The bowl of blackberries next to you on the table. The aching feeling at the back of your neck.

Try this:

For 10 minutes, set a timer and write about everything you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel.

Stay in your living room, or in your local coffee shop. Notice what lives and breathes around you. Gather those details around your body like a cloak. The more you allow what is present to filter through, the more you’ll be able to quiet the voice that wants something absent.

When I do this exercise, I am able to appreciate the mundane details of this moment, and to see that all of the shoulds are taking me away from my life exactly as it is.

2. Write true stories about your life.

The sad thing about the chorus of shoulds is they often keep us from examining our own lives and being honest about our experiences.

A few years ago, I was forced to resign from my teaching job. I was left questioning myself and my worth as a person. I felt so much shame around that experience that I avoided writing into the details.

But once I owned the details of that story, of the tears flowing down my cheeks on field day that year, of the moments sitting with my students on the black carpet covered with peace signs, of the joy in my students’ faces when they understood concepts I taught, I realized that my being asked to resign had nothing to do with my teaching.

I was able to see that I had been caught up in the political web of the public school system. And while I am a great teacher, I am not good at bureaucracy and politics.

When you write your own stories, down to the nitty gritty details, you own them. You can then mine them for insights on yourself, and you can lovingly lay them down and stop shoulding yourself into oblivion.

Write your stories. Then you can lay down your shoulds and see the truth of who you are. Click To Tweet

Try this:

Set a timer for 15 minutes, and then write a true story about your life.

You can start with one from a long time ago, if that feels less scary. Write about something you’ve been carrying with you. Don’t judge yourself. Just write into the details.

Where were you? How did you feel? Who else was there? What happened? Writing your story will help you own it. It will release its hold on you, and you can stop shouldering it like a heavy backpack.

3. Share your stories with other women.

I teach women’s writing workshops where we sit around a table and share our stories with each other.

Often, it feels hard at first. We all want to write what we think everyone else wants to hear.

Women apologize. They say, “Sorry this is sad,” or “I don’t know if I followed the prompt, but here goes.”

But when a woman has the courage to share her story without polishing it, when she shares something true that has happened, it touches a deep truth in the rest of us. We gather around her story and say, “Yes. I relate to that. Yes. That feels true to me.” And then we all feel less alone.

When you share your true stories with other women, you release them. Instead of locking them up because you don’t think they show you in the way you want to be seen, you allow them to come into the light. And in doing so, you, and the other women hearing your story feel less alone.

You’re able to celebrate who you actually are.

Try this:

Get together with 2 or 3 women you trust, and write together. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Everyone write about a time they felt ashamed.

Then, after the timer goes off, each of you read your story aloud. Listen to each other without judgement. You can offer feedback if you want, but make sure its affirming. Tell the other women how their stories made you feel. Share what you could relate to. Connect around your shared stories. You will feel more whole afterward.

4. Make writing your stories a habit.

Every day, or once a week, set a timer for 15 minutes and write your stories. You can reread them if you want. You can call a friend and share them if you want. But write them down.

Follow these rules:

  • Be honest
  • Write the sensory details
  • Trust yourself
  • Don’t stop writing for the whole 15 minutes

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

  • Write about a time you felt lonely
  • Write about a moment you stood up for yourself
  • Write about a time you felt proud
  • Write about a friend you loved and lost
  • Write about someone you loved who hurt you
  • Write about someone who taught you a lesson about life
  • Write about a moment of wonder
  • Write about something that happened to you this week

The more you write, the more you ink your voice out onto the page, the less you’ll focus on the shoulds and the more you’ll lean into the truth of your life.

5. Write the shoulds down.

Anytime you hear a “should” in your head, write it down. Keep a pad of paper nearby, or a file on your computer as a repository. Think of it as an ongoing monologue by the evil dictator between your ears. You can even draw the dictator, name her, give her a personality.

But write them down. And change them from “I” to “you.”

You should go to sleep earlier.
You should get more exercise.
You should have handled that conversation differently.
You should have prepared more for that class.

Whatever shoulds come up, get them out of your head and onto the page. Then read them, acknowledge them, and go back to being the beautiful, messy human you are.

Or, if you want, you could write a counterargument for each:

You should go to sleep earlier. I love staying up late reading. It brings me joy.

You should get more exercise. Sitting on the couch eating cookies makes me happy. Plus I went to the gym yesterday, so lay off.

You should have handled that conversation differently. Instead of berating myself, maybe I can reach out and have another conversation with my friend. Or I can learn for next time.

You should have prepared more for that class. I could have prepared more, but I was having too much fun being out with my friends. I loved my time with them. I can always prepare better next time.

Airing out your shoulds makes them less likely to trip you up and get you down. It quiets them so that you can get on with your day.

The next time you find yourself deafened by all of your shoulds:

  • Write about the present moment
  • Write your true stories
  • Share your stories with other women
  • Make writing your stories a habit
  • Write your shoulds down

You’ll be happier, closer to your truth, and more able to accept yourself for the incredible person you are.

How to Embrace the Messy Joy of Starting Over

I remember the first few weeks of working for myself.

I was like a blind woman, wandering around, trying random things. I put a profile up on a tutoring site, and the first time someone hired me to tutor her felt like a dream. Wow, I thought. I can really do this.

As exciting as it all was, I just wanted to be further into the journey, to know how to do it all already.

Since then, I’ve tutored dozens of kids, teenagers, and adults. My friend and I started a web design business, and I built websites for small businesses and even a small medical college. I’ve taught over 100 women in a membership site I built from scratch.

When I built my first online business, I felt a fiery desire to learn everything I possibly could. I threw myself into online courses, listened to dozens of podcasts, and invested in all of the best apps. I was a woman with a dream, and nothing could stop me.

I built a Facebook group to 6500 people. I sold online courses, and coaching, and did all of the things I had dreamed of doing.

And then. Things didn’t work out exactly how I had hoped. I closed down my membership site, knowing in my gut that, even though I loved the community, I didn’t want to teach about blogging forever. I didn’t have the passion, the stamina, or even the desire to keep it going.

Then, for months, I sustained myself through freelance writing, something I am good at, but that doesn’t light me up inside. I ached for that missing sense of purpose and joy.

Wandering around this strange no-woman’s land, I wondered, How do I reclaim my passion for creating? How do I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start over?

This in-between place feels so different from where I was when I first started. And it seems like most of the support out there is designed for people who need to learn the ropes of business, not folks like me who know how to do it, but feel stuck and lost and disillusioned.

I want a course for people who know how to do online business but who have tried all of the tips and tricks, have used all of the templates, and want to start fresh doing things their way.

Who have exhausted all of the worn paths and are ready to hack their way through the woods, if only we had the courage and the strength to get up and try again.

As you can tell, I’m still in the middle of the process myself, but here are some of the things I’m learning and trying. If you’re a few years in and exhausted, maybe this will help.

Struggling to begin again after your last creative idea didn't work out? Read this.Click To Tweet

1. Honor yourself for all the work you’ve done so far.

Sometimes I forget to pat myself on the back and remember everything I’ve learned and tried and accomplished. I look back at the past 5 years and see a void.

But when I’m able to remember all of the things I’ve added to my proverbial backpack over the years, it reminds me of how capable and strong I really am.

Do this:

Imagine you’ve brought a backpack with you through all of your business/blogging/self-employed experiences. What new skills and strengths have you put in your backpack? What useless things have you removed?

If it helps, create these sections:

  • Skills
  • Strengths
  • Lessons learned
  • Accomplishments
  • Things I’ve let go of

When you realize how much you’ve gained and how full your backpack is (luckily it’s imaginary, so you don’t have to struggle to carry it), you’ll feel so much better prepared to get up and start over.

2. Start small

I’ve realized that in the process of starting over, it’s been hard to think small.

When I first started my blog coaching business, I created a free 5 day course, and got 30 people to join it. It was a small, doable experiment to see how viable my business idea was, and I loved it.

This time, I’m doing a writing workshop for 7 women in my apartment. A small, intimate experiment that makes me happy.

I think that we often forget (or at least I do) that most businesses start small. It’s these simple actions – writing a blog post, offering a workshop, creating a PDF, that add up into something larger.

Just like, when I first started, I wanted to be an expert already, now, I want my new writing coaching business to be HUGE and SUCCESSFUL. I want to be making a full time income from my efforts. But I can’t build a big business in weeks. All I can do is focus on small things that make me happy and fulfill me.

If you're struggling to start over after a fall, honor your accomplishments & start small.Click To Tweet

Do this:

If you’re in between businesses/projects, or if you’re losing excitement for your current business/project, try out mini-experiments that will bring you closer to the business you want.

Make sure your mini-experiments:

  • Arouse your curiosity
  • Spark your joy
  • Don’t stress you out
  • Reflect what you want to do large-scale

Last night, my friend Ani and I discussed this question: How do you know if an experiment is successful?

For me, an experiment is successful if:

  • I enjoy it
  • Other people resonate with it
  • It feels honest and true

Ani’s measures of success are more about metrics. How much money does it bring in? If she scales it up, does it show that she’ll earn what she wants in the longterm?

Figure out your own measures of success. They can be nebulous and feelings-oriented like mine, or numbers-driven like Ani’s. If they feel good to you, they are good.

3. Practice self-compassion

I’m reading a book called Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff.

(Watch her TED Talk here)

She talks about the importance of giving yourself compassion no matter what.

When thoughts come up like…

“Why couldn’t I make that business work?”
“Why aren’t I as successful as I want to be yet?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I suck”

Instead of letting yourself continue on that treacherous path, give yourself a hug, wrap yourself in your favorite blanket, and whisper soothing things to yourself. Remind yourself that you are human, that you’ve come a long way, and that it’s okay to fall down and get back up again.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather work for a boss who is compassionate and kind, who gently pushes me to get back up and try again, than one who berates me and doubts me at every turn.

When you work for yourself, you are your boss. (Not to state the obvious, or anything.) So be a kind one.

4. Stop worrying about doing it right

The great thing about failing is it shows you that even when you try to do everything right, it often falls short or blows up in your face.

Why is this a great thing, you ask?

Because it gives you the freedom to stop trying to “Do it right,” and instead, to do it in a way that you enjoy.

Maybe this time, instead of loading up on online courses and trying to do what some guru tells you to do, you’ll listen to your intuition, instead.

Do this:

  • When something doesn’t feel right to you, stop doing it. Even if “everyone” is saying it’s the best thing since cold brew coffee.
  • When you get the urge to try something that feels weird and different, do it. Ignore the voice in your head that’s trying to keep you safe by stifling your creativity.
  • Make a big sign that says “Trust Yourself” and hang it up somewhere in your house, or office, or both. I suggest taping a bunch of paper together, writing it in huge bubble letters like you did in elementary school, and coloring it with magic markers.

5. Reach out to your community

When you’re in between businesses, when you feel like you’ve “failed,” it can be a huge source of shame. I know it has been for me. It takes guts to say, “I tried something and it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.”

But one of the worst things you can do when you’re down and out is to isolate yourself.

If you feel frustrated that something didn’t work, if you feel discouraged and afraid to try again, talk about it. Talking about things makes them seem less scary. It reminds you that you’re human and that part of being human is trying things that don’t work out.

Do this:

Find one friend to reach out to and tell her (or him) how things are going. Make sure it’s someone who you can trust, and who loves you, and who won’t make you feel worse. Tell her what kind of response you want. Do you want her to just listen and reflect? Do you want her to share her own stories that connect with yours? Are you looking for advice? Be clear about what you need from her.

Then be honest. Let yourself be seen. Share what’s real for you right now. Bring your pain and your shame into the light.

6. Stop hiding

I’ve spent many days reading on the couch for hours, telling myself I’m taking care of myself, all the while feeling like I should really be doing something productive.

Really, this isn’t self-care. It’s hiding.

What do you do to avoid facing your feelings? Do you bake cookies? Read? Play video games? Whatever it is, recognize it.

Do this:

  • When you find yourself hiding in an activity, first, give yourself compassion.
  • Then get curious. Ask yourself, What am I hiding from right now?
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes and then write whatever comes up for you.
  • Reread what you’ve written.
  • Give yourself more compassion.
  • Do one action that makes you feel good.

You can hide for days, weeks, even years, from your true feelings and desires. But once you face them, you can stop hiding and step fully into your life.

Being in between things is hard.

But if you give yourself compassion, if you try small, joyful experiments, if you stop worrying about “doing it right,” if you reach out for help, and if you come out of hiding, you will soon find yourself back on the path of creation.

You’ll find the courage and the strength to try again. You’ll be able to pick up your imaginary backpack and cut your own path through the magical forest.

Let’s try it together.

When your brain gets in the way, write about blackberries

Today, I am draped in an orange and purple blanket from India.

I lugged it back with me in a green and black backpack on overnight bus rides, through the streets of Shimla and Dehli, and finally home.

This blanket cloaks me in memory – I went to India! I was brave! I lived in the world!

Next to my computer, a dozen blackberries wait to be devoured. I washed them in a bowl full of holes, blue with purple streaks. A wedding gift.

Then there’s my iced coffee — cold brew with ice cubes and half and half in a purple glass with silver sparkles from Rome. I remember the first time I drank cold brew coffee, in a coffee shop in Denver called Fluid on 19th and Pennsylvania St., near my one bedroom apartment with a black and white tiled kitchen.

I mention these items because they are real, tangible, concrete. They help me anchor myself in the world, in my apartment, instead of living in my overworked brain. The brain that says “Who are you to write? No one cares about your orange blanket or your purple glass. Get to the point.”

Our brains find so many ways to keep us from using our voices.

We want to be right. We want people to like us. We want our writing to be perfect as soon as it dribbles onto the page.

We’re so intent on perfection that we decide we’d rather do something else. Like scrape grime off of last night’s dishes, or watch Netflix, or lay on the couch with the dog, hiding in her soft fur.

Coming back to the concrete, tangible details helps.

It anchors you as a writer to this real world, the world that exists outside of your fear, outside of your need to be right and to be liked and to be the best writer in the world.

The blackberries don’t care.

They’ll taste tangy and sour and sweet regardless of what your brain does. The blankets and the floor under your feet will stay there, unbudging, as you wrestle with questions of your own worthiness and likability.

When you get stuck in your brain, write about this precious, fleeting moment.Click To Tweet

This is what story does — it grounds us in this world.

It reminds us that we are pulsing, breathing humans living on this glorious, gory, gorgeous earth.

The next time you feel the pull inside, hear the voice in your ear, asking you, begging you to write, heed the call.

Sit in your chair. Wrap yourself in your favorite blanket. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea.

Then write into the present moment.

Honor and bless what you see around you, what you hear, what you smell.

Writing will remind you that you are alive. It will help you look at your surroundings and see the beauty in the things that exist all around you, all the time.

Eat your blackberries. Sip your coffee. Feel the ground under your feet, supporting you even though you haven’t asked for it, haven’t even noticed it.

Write into your life.

This moment is here to be savored.

The Naked Truth About Being a Writer

I’m a freelance writer, which means I get paid to wake up and write everyday.

I write in my dining room, sipping a glass of cold brew coffee over ice, my goldendoodle Kaia laying under my chair.

I often wake up at 9AM and it’s okay, because no one is breathing down my neck. I get to research things I’m interested in, and people actually pay me to write about them.

Being a writer definitely has its perks. But then there are the hard parts, the dark parts, the parts every writer experiences but few enjoy sharing.

As writers, we need to walk through the forest of fear in order to emerge and share our voices.Click To Tweet

Writing can feel very lonely and isolating

While it’s great to be able to manage my own schedule and work in sweatpants, writing is also a lonely pursuit. Often, it’s just me and my keyboard. Sometimes I daydream about having an office job (seriously) because then I would be able to actually see other people and collaborate with them. (Imagine that!)

I’ve wrestled with the pain of being a writer who thrives on social connection. How do I do both? I’m still figuring that out. I hope that eventually I’ll be able to teach writing just as much as I do writing, that I’ll get more collaborative writing assignments. Until then, I have to intentionally make social time a vital part of each day.

I try to call at least 3 close friends a week and have long, thoughtful conversations with them so that I don’t get completely lonely and depressed. Those conversations keep me going.

I also try to do writing that involves interviewing and learning from others. As writers, we have to intentionally connect with other people. It’s not an integral part of our work. And that’s hard sometimes.

The claws of self doubt often sink into me when I want to write something new and different

I’m writing a soap opera series for one of my clients, 42 Dubonnet.

Unlike with the writing I do for my other clients, this is a creative project completely driven by my own imagination. Sometimes I wake up with every intention of writing another episode of The Adventures of Delilah Dubonnet, but my head junk gets in the way, and I just end up sitting on the couch and reading all day.

With my own blog, it’s also a challenge to push myself to write new and creative things. I will often think of a blog post idea and then immediately dismiss it. I will think, “No one will ‘get’ that.” Or “Who am I to write about that?” Then, instead of pushing through the haze and writing anyway, I let my own fear keep me from putting words on the page.

But when I do trust my voice, when I do push through and write something original, it feels really, really amazing.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of learning instead of doing

Have you ever had a brilliant idea for a blog post, writing project, or email, and then thought, “Let me just see if there’s a ‘right’ way to do this?” Then you probably went into the endless hole of the Internet, reading about all of the ‘proven’ ways to write a ‘successful’ post. 6 hours later, you resurfaced and realized you never wrote anything.

Unfortunately, Internet marketers know you’re afraid. They know you want to do it ‘right.’ And they’re all too eager to share what they’ve learned to save you time and effort. But following someone else’s process is a great way to lose your own voice and to join the crowds of people who sound the same.

When I started my blog, I wanted to help people find their voices. But then, without even meaning to, I got swept up in the wave of people teaching other people how to blog. It was so easy to follow the crowd instead of digging down and staying true to what I wanted to write about.

The bottom line? If you have a thread of curiosity in your heart, let that propel you forward. Don’t lose yourself in other people’s “best practices.” What’s best for them may not be best for you.

Sometimes I wonder if my writing really matters

Everyone in my family works in a helping profession. My dad is a divorce lawyer who also counsels his clients. My mom worked as a social worker with foster families for over 40 years, and my sister is a social worker who works with teens. My husband is a family doctor.

I’m the only one who doesn’t work directly with people on a daily basis. Sometimes I wonder if my writing really matters. I deeply want to make an impact with my work. And while I enjoy writing and I’m good at it, sometimes I wonder if it’s enough.

But then I read a blog post that makes me think about the world in a totally different way. I devour a novel that makes me question my beliefs. Or I hear a podcast that gives me hope and inspires me. They help me remember that what I’m doing matters, even if I don’t see the immediate impact of my work.

The other thing that gives my work purpose is knowing that even if no one else reads my writing, the act of writing itself transforms me and teaches me. Especially when I write something honest and original. Writing helps me see things I need to pay attention to. And if my writing makes an impact on me, that’s powerful on its own.

You can’t be a writer without experiencing rejection

No matter what type of writer you are, at some point you have to experience rejection.

I’ve had article pitches rejected. Clients have completely edited and changed articles I’ve written. Every time I send an email to my email list, a few people unsubscribe.

Every writer I’ve read, even the best ones, have negative reviews on Goodreads. The most provocative, stirring articles always have people complaining about them in their comment sections.

While being a writer has made me better at taking criticism and dismissing rejection, it still hurts. I still just want people to tell me they love what I’m doing. I don’t know if that’s ever going to change.

On the other hand, the more I’m rejected, the more I realize that rejection doesn’t hurt me. My writing isn’t me, so when someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean they don’t like me. And even if they don’t like me, that’s okay, too. My dog will love me no matter what.

Getting comfortable with rejection lets me take more risks — both in my work and in my life. And that means I have a fuller life than I would otherwise.

Being a writer takes tremendous self-discipline

I could just binge on Netflix while eating Talenti gelato everyday, because I don’t have a boss other than myself. That means I have to motivate myself to get off the couch, sit down at my computer, and write. Sometimes, I just don’t have it in me to do that.

Don’t get me wrong, if I have a deadline, I meet it.

But if I don’t, it’s all too easy to procrastinate. It’s so tempting to clean my kitchen when I know I should be pitching to new publications instead. Sometimes I’d rather listen to a podcast and dream about being a successful writing teacher instead of doing the actual work of writing. And sometimes, I let myself off the hook.

On the other hand, the fact that more often than not, I get off the couch and do my work means that I’ve built up a well of self-discipline I can draw from. I know that I do my work not because someone else told me to, but because I choose to. And that is a powerful realization.

It’s too easy to ‘disqualify’ yourself from being a writer

I’ve been writing for my entire life. I even have a Creative Writing degree. Yet sometimes, I still think, “Am I really qualified to call myself a writer? Am I qualified to help other people write?”

I’m pretty confident in my writer-ness most of the time. But I know plenty of people (maybe you?) who find a million ways to disqualify themselves.

They say, “Well, I write on my blog, but I’m not really a writer” or “I don’t have a degree so I’m not a true writer” or “I haven’t published anything so I’m not a writer.”

Unlike other professions where if you have a degree, you can add some fancy initials next to your name, no degree can truly make you a “licensed writer.” That means you have to own your writer-ness yourself. You have to have the strength and the confidence to say, “Yeah, I’m a writer.”

And if you write, even if it’s just in your journal, you are a writer. I promise.

Despite all the hardships, I am still a writer.

Honestly, I can’t help it. It’s like there’s an inner voice that pushes me to write. If I haven’t written anything in a long time, it gently nudges me. It says, “Daniela, you need to get your words on the page.”

Being a writer is part of me, like being a woman or having curly hair. For better or worse, I’ll be a writer until I die.

I shared all of these hard, naked truths for a few reasons:

  1. I’m clearing out the cobwebs to give myself space to write with greater depth and clarity
  2. I believe that the dark forest of writing is just as important to acknowledge as the bright flashes of insight, the brilliantly written poems, the incredibly crafted articles.
  3. I think you may have experienced similar hardships to mine. And I want you to know I’m in the scary forest with you. We’ll get through this together.

Here’s a thought to take with you into the future:

It’s normal to feel lonely, fearful, rejected, and frustrated as a writer.

And the thing that will keep you going, more than anything else, is that quiet voice inside you, that playful, creative voice, that whispers “I have something to say.”

Listen to it. Let it out. Your voice wants to be heard.

How to Meet Your Inner Council of Wise Women

Sitting down to write this post, I took a picture I drew last year, of Maya, my backpacker, free-spirit self, and put it on the table next to me.

See, I’ve built up this inner library of the way things “should” be done on my blog.

  • You must write about writing.
  • You must have bullet points.
  • You must have headings.
  • You must write your headline first.

And on and on.

And all of that is helpful, but I’m ready to bust out of these constraints, ready to get raw and real and playful. But it’s hard sometimes to see those invisible walls, those invisible requirements, let alone surpass them.

Maya, my backpacker, free spirited self helps me do it.

Maya is one of many Soul Women that I turn to when I want support or when I want to use a part of myself that may be asleep or dormant.

There’s Maya, my backpacker self. She’s the me who traveled through Guatemala with nothing but a dirty backpack. The me who shaved her head in India. The me who takes risks and tries new things.

There’s Maayan, my creative self. She loves drawing and painting watercolors and finding the connections between things. She made music videos in high school, created a poetry portfolio in college, and made my website brand and graphics.

There’s Chava, my loving self. She’s the self that truly takes time to see and listen to other people. That feels deep empathy for others’ experiences. That is able to stop in the middle of the day to rub my husband’s back or talk to a friend in need.

I met Maya, my first Soul Woman, a year ago.

I was writing about a time I traveled to Guatemala, when I was free and happy and felt unburdened. I remembered a moment when I was on a boat, listening to “Motorcycle Drive By” by Third Eye Blind, and I felt totally and utterly alive.

After I wrote about that experience, I realized that I hadn’t felt that free and unfettered in a long time. I deeply missed that part of me, the part that was wide open and ready for new experiences. So I invited her back into my life. I drew her and named her and welcomed her to help me live more playfully.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself experimenting and trying new crazy ideas.

The invisible bars on my creative cell began to expand and disappear. Just by invoking Maya and inviting her in, I was able to reclaim that hairy-legged, carefree, happy backpacker again.

So I went searching for my other Soul Women. That’s when I met Maayan, Chava, and others, as well.

I’ve helped other women meet their Soul Women, too.

Through invoking their Soul Women, they’ve found the bravery to have conversations they were avoiding, the courage to own their expertise, and the confidence to speak publicly in front of a group.

The idea of Soul Women isn’t unique. You’ve probably heard of the concept of the alter-ego, or the act of creating a “character” to embody when you want to change your personality or achieve something in your life.

For years, Beyonce used her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce to help her perform. She told Oprah, “Usually when I hear the chords, when I put on my stilettos. Like the moment right before when you’re nervous. Then Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different.”

I think of it as using your imagination to “become” a different version of yourself, if only for a short time.

I call on specific Soul Women when I need them. For example, if I am struggling with money issues, I call on my money Soul Woman and ask her what to do.

If I’m deciding what to do in my business, I hang out with my CEO Soul Woman and use her guidance to help me on my way.

Instead of approaching these difficult choices and situations from my typical way of thinking, I ask my inner guides for wisdom. It’s kind of like phoning a friend, but instead of calling a real person, you tap into the deep well of your own intuition and knowledge.

Meet the wise inner council that will revolutionize your way of handling difficult situations.Click To Tweet

How to Meet/Imagine Your Own Soul Women

1. When you encounter a problem and feel stuck, stop and ask yourself the following questions:

  • When is a time that I encountered something like this and proved that I could handle it? What characteristics did I have?
  • Who do I know who is really good at this? What qualities do they have that I can give my Soul Woman?
  • Is there a famous person or character from a book or movie that I wish I could talk to about this? Which personality traits do they have that I can give my Soul Woman?

2. Using these characteristics as a jumping off point, create your Soul Woman.

You can do this by:

  • Drawing her
  • Writing a story about her
  • Writing back and forth to her as if you’re texting or having a conversation
  • Closing your eyes and imagining what she looks and sounds like
  • Giving her a name
  • Choosing an article of clothing that you can wear when you want to embody her (kind of like Beyonce’s stilettos)

Let your imagination and your intuition take over. This is your Soul Woman. There’s no one right way to envision her. Trust yourself.

3. Anytime you get stuck, see if there’s a Soul Woman you’ve already imagined who can help you, or create a new one.

There’s no rule that you can only have one alter-ego or Soul Woman. I like having Soul Women for all different areas of my life. That way I can focus on the specific traits I want to embody at that moment, rather than creating a perfect super human that encompasses all of them.

If you can imagine a Soul Woman, she is a part of you, because she came from your creativity and intuition.

Creating your Soul Women is like getting back in touch with pieces of yourself that have been asleep or that you never knew existed.

The next time you get stuck on something, know that you have an inner council of Soul Women just waiting to help you out. Then use your imagination, get playful, and meet your next Soul Woman.

You’ll find that you come up with answers you never would have thought of on your own.

Finding the Intersection of My Way and the “Right” Way

When blogging first came out, I didn’t get it.  “Why would someone want to read about my life?” I wondered.

Even when I was living in Israel or traveling in Central America, I just wasn’t convinced that my experiences meant enough that someone would actually care to read about them.

Years later, after coming back home to Denver, teaching passionately for 3 years, and then losing my teaching job, I became obsessed with the idea of making money online. I listened to a bajillion podcasts (yes, that was the exact number), read hundreds of blog posts, took courses, and dove in headfirst.

I learned how to write blog posts that taught something to a specific audience. Posts that were divided up into neat little sections, each of which offered a nugget of wisdom or advice. I made graphics for each post that other people would want to re-pin on Pinterest. And, amazingly, people started reading my blog.

But as I went deeper and deeper into blogging “the right way,” I lost the path of passion and excitement that had initially led me into the blogging world. I was so bogged down with doing it right, that I didn’t notice when my blogging life turned from prisma-color into black and white. As I felt less and less excited about my blog, I wrote less and less, too.

Then I took a long break from blogging. I had become so entrenched in trying to “do it right” that I didn’t remember how to just write for the pure love and joy of writing. I needed those months to lose the blogging blueprints that had become imprinted into my brain. I needed a reset so that I could come back with the mind of an explorer, rather than one of a marketer.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you started blogging because you needed to write what lived inside of you. You ventured into the scary online world, set up your blog, hit publish, and then nothing happened. So you went even deeper into the internet on a quest for learning. You joined Facebook groups. You took courses. You learned how to do it all.

And then you felt so bogged down by the need to do it right — to optimize everything for SEO, to share it at the right times on all the social media channels, to grow your email list, to do everything the experts said you needed to do — that you nearly drowned in a sea of overwhelm.

You started watching your stats instead of listening to your inner voice, the voice that just wanted you to express yourself. You started gauging your success by the number of people who commented on your blog rather than by the joy you felt when you shared your truth. Slowly your passion faded to a withered yellow, like the pages of an old book.

Or maybe you didn’t take that journey. But I know a lot of people who have.

And once your passion has faded, then what? Once you’ve let go of sharing your voice because you’re afraid you won’t do it “right,” then what?

I’m still figuring that out. But I think my (your?) “then what” could look like this:

I know how to do all of the optimizing. I get how to grow an email list. I’ve done all the courses and learned all the things. That knowledge lives inside of me now.

But you know what else lives inside of me? Originality. Creativity. Intuition. The quiet voice that urges me to share, even if I don’t have all the answers. The desire to connect and communicate. All of that coexists inside my body.

So I think, I hope, it’s possible to use both.

To listen to my intuition and write what matters to me, and then to choose how to share it with the world. Maybe, instead of either doing it “right” or doing it the “Daniela way,” I can do it my way by picking and choosing what advice I listen to and what I reject.

I don’t need to stick my head in the sand and block out all the wisdom of bloggers who came before me, but I also don’t need to follow their paths and abandon my own. There must be a way to do both. To open to my deep knowing, and to open to the knowledge of other people.

I’m not sure what that’s going to look like. But I’m excited to find out.

How to Escape the Trap of the Niche and Embrace Your Full Self

What if, instead of niching down, like all of the marketing experts tell you to, you began with exploring who you are?

What if you started your business on a foundation of self love? What if you gathered all of your unique and strange parts together and that was your niche, instead of an arbitrary idea of what you “should” do?

That’s what this post explores.

Yesterday, I met with a coaching client who has a therapy practice. For months, I had tried to get her to niche down. She is brilliant at helping families go through addiction recovery and I wanted her to focus solely on that.

She explained to me how much she loves working with healthy couples, and new mothers, and teens. I could see that she was struggling because she thought I would be disappointed that she didn’t want to niche down.

As she spoke, I realized that maybe niching down didn’t make sense for her. Maybe, instead of trying to get her to be super specific, I should celebrate her strengths and encourage her to use them with all types of clients.

You see, this client is extremely creative. She uses dance, storytelling, and sensory exploration to help her clients heal. I thought, What if she emphasized her creativity, instead of limiting who she works with? What if I help her do more of what she loves instead of trying to fit her into a nicely defined box for the sake of marketing?

When I told her my thoughts, she let out a sigh of relief. And so did I.

Even though every marketer tells you to niche down, it can often feel like wearing Spanx – so restrictive it’s hard to breathe. Your business may look sexier, but you’re never completely comfortable.

Niching down is like wearing Spanx. You may look sexier, but it's hard to breathe.Click To Tweet

Here’s how I’ve tried to niche down in the past:

I tried to figure out what people wanted. I looked at lists of psychographics and demographics. I picked one area or topic to focus on based on my strengths.

My main goal was to make it easier for people to “get” what I did. I wanted to make money quickly (which didn’t work, in case you were wondering). Also, to be painstakingly honest, I didn’t want to do the deep, messy work of truly looking at myself and then creating a niche based on everything that I am.

I tried to take a shortcut. It didn’t work.

I ended up with a blog and a business that felt so unaligned with me I had to dump all of my well-researched tactics and start over.

But I’m convinced there’s another way, a more intuitive, fuller way, to create a unique niche.

I want to create a brand, that doesn’t diminish me for the sake of convenience, but instead, represents who I actually am.

I’m sharing this with you because I’m guessing you may be sick of wearing metaphorical Spanx, tired of trying to fit yourself into a box so that other people “get” who you are and what you do.

The first step is to get down, in writing, or in drawing, or however feels good to you, all of your strange and beautiful complexities.

I’ve explored this in two ways.

First, I made this bullseye. The center shows my values in blue, followed by my actions in green, then what I make, and finally, what I sell.

Then, I wrote down some ideas about who I am and what I offer:

My approach: Playful, creative, connective, intuitive, innovative, concrete
My values: Honesty, joy, integrity, uniqueness, permission
My strengths: Writing, breaking concepts down, meeting people where they are, seeing different possibilities, teaching through expressive modalities, learning, making connections, humor, honesty/vulnerability, courage to explore
Things I love to do: Have deep conversations, go on adventures, write, connect, read, learn new things, celebrate other people’s uniqueness, create, experiment
Qualities I bring to my clients: Listening, reliability, care, exploration, permission, fun/joy
Key moments in my story: When I went on LEAPYear, shaved my head, became a teacher, pursued my own business, moved to Miami, grew Blogging on Your Own Terms, met my Soul Women
What is important for me to share: The complexity of creating, our endless capacity for reinvention through creativity and curiosity, stop defining and start noticing, it’s okay to follow the money

These are the things that feel intuitively right for me to explore. You are welcome to use my format to write your own list. Or it might look different for you. That’s okay, too.

If you know my blog, if you know my writing, you know that I can’t write a blog post without some concrete steps to follow.

So here are a few guidelines for how to begin exploring the fullness of who you are.

  1. Start with your values. What is your core, your foundation? Begin with that.
  2. Don’t let your brain take charge of this process. Follow your intuition. Write down whatever comes up, no matter how strange, embarrassing, or irrelevant it feels.
  3. Be creative. Draw. Paint. Dance into your niche. Seriously. Let yourself explore.
  4. Play. Go outside. Take a walk. Let your joy speak.
  5. Be curious.
  6. Go into moments of power in your past. What have you done or experienced that changed you forever? Those moments matter.
  7. Let yourself stay with complexity, with not knowing, with the messiness. Don’t try to “make sense” of it all. This part of the process is about seeing yourself fully. That’s it.

Here’s another truth bomb for you.

I don’t know where this is leading. I may write another blog post where I fold this into a unique, well defined niche. Or I may see a thread inside of this self-knowledge, and follow that to a project. Or an idea.

Right now, knowing myself feels like a solid foundation to begin rebuilding. So I’m starting there. And if it feels right to you, I hope you’ll start there with me.

The Delicious Freedom of Not Knowing

I burned my business to the ground last month.

I’m freelance writing these days.

I love it. Not because it’s my life purpose. Not because it’s what I’ve always been searching for.

I love it because it’s fun, I’m good at it, and I’m making money. I’m learning. I’m growing.

It doesn’t have to be more than that. It’s what I’m doing now.

I wrote an article about pregnancy announcements.

I got paid to watch videos of a couple singing a Britney Spears pregnancy medley, a husband crying in a photo booth, and Prego sauce dripping down a bathroom mirror like blood. Life changing? No. Entertaining? Yes.

I’m tired of taking myself so seriously.

I talked to an energetic healer/life coach last week. She told me the purpose of life is to be happy. What a relief.

Here’s what I’m telling myself these days that you might find helpful, too:

  • You don’t have to know the answers. Now, or ever. In fact, thinking you own the TRUTH gets you into a lot of trouble.
  • Your first task is to let go and trust. After that, everything else unfolds with greater ease.
  • It’s okay to change what you’re doing. It’s okay to admit you’re wrong. It’s okay to give up and choose another path.
  • Money is just money. It isn’t any more valuable if it comes from your life’s purpose. $5 from dog walking can buy the same latte as $5 from your life’s purpose (whatever that means).
  • Who said your life’s purpose is one thing, anyway? Can’t we have a bunch of purposes?
  • Your blog is just something you’ve made. It isn’t you. It doesn’t contain your worthiness.
  • Your business is just something you’re trying out. It isn’t you. You can burn it to the ground and survive.
  • Stop worrying about what other people think and do your thing.
  • Make joy a priority.
  • Stop trying to be the expert. You know what you know. Just share it.
  • You don’t need to prove yourself. You own your knowledge. You own your abilities. You own your love. You own your creativity. That’s true no matter what. Even if you don’t get this client. Even if you don’t get social shares. Even if you never blog again.
  •  You’re allowed to be happy right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re in debt or don’t know where you’ll be living in a year. Be happy anyway.
Your first task is to let go and trust. After that, everything else unfolds with greater ease.Click To Tweet

There’s so much pressure to know.

To know what we’re doing. To know our path. To know our purpose. To know our niche.

To know what we’re here on this beautiful Earth to do.

But lately, I’ve found that I’d rather not know.

I’d rather remain open and curious. I’d rather do what feels intuitively good.

I’d rather write a blog post about pregnancy announcements and then walk my dog by the water and feel the salty humid air on my skin.

I’d rather be open. I’d rather say, Universe, bring on the joy. Show me. 

I’d rather do that than have the answers.

So. Here I am, savoring the wild delicious freedom of not knowing.

Universe, I am ready. Bring it on.

How to Trust Yourself More as a Blogger

In order to create a blog you love, you must trust yourself.

In creating blog posts and in growing an audience, you step into the unknown. And it’s a little bit scary to put yourself and your voice out there.

You might think…

  • What if no one likes this post?
  • Who am I to say I’m an expert?
  • Am I doing this right?
  • What if people think I’m crazy?

And on and on.

When these fears come up, it’s easy to:
A. Stop yourself from blogging at all.
B. Search out the advice of so-called blogging gurus.
C. Blog about what you think people want rather than what you truly care about.

But there is an option D. Which is to trust yourself.

You can do things to build that trust day by day, week by week.

Until, one day, you will find yourself thinking I got this, and plunging into a new blog post without a second thought.

That feeling is awesome.

So…how do you develop that trust?

1. Show up for yourself and do what you commit to doing

There are 2 parts to this, and both are equally important.

1. Make a commitment to yourself that you can keep.

How often have you told yourself, I will write a blog post every morning, and then you feel like a failure when you only write once a month.

It’s okay. You are human.

But in the future, try not to make commitments to yourself that you can’t keep.

How often can you actually commit to working on your blog? Choose something that feels good and that you will do.

You know yourself, so just lovingly ask, Self, what is realistic here? and you will get the answer.

2. Show up for your blog when you say you will.

You may want to put your blogging time on the calendar. Or you may want to commit to doing it on a specific day, but leave it open as to when.

Just make sure that you make a solid commitment and follow through with it.

Every time you sit down to blog when you say you will, your trust in yourself as a blogger will grow.

2. Listen to your intuition

Trust your gut. Trust your intuition. Do what it says.

You know what I’m talking about. That little voice inside that says, Why don’t you try this? or Maybe you could do that.

We all have a wise inner self. And when we consistently listen to it, we are able to hear it with greater and greater clarity.

This is especially important when it comes to writing and growing a blog. It is so easy – almost inevitable – to fall into the trap of looking at what everyone else is doing and then falling into line.

But your blog’s success – and your own fulfillment as a blogger – depends on you doing your own thing in your own way.

Your intuition knows…

  • Your deeper purpose for blogging
  • What you need to write right now
  • What your readers care about
  • How to leverage your greatest strengths in your blog

The only thing that’s keeping you from knowing these things is your fear and your desire to “get it right.”

Drop your fear, lean into your intuition, and you’ll find your way.

3. Let go.

There is a strange interplay between trust and letting go.

On one hand, how do you let go when you don’t trust? On the other, how can you be held if you don’t let go?

How will you know you’re safe if you don’t let yourself take down your defenses?

Blogging takes a tremendous amount of letting go.

  • Let go of your attachment to outcomes.
  • Let go of wanting it to be perfect.
  • Let go of knowing how it will be received.
  • Let go of needing the approval of others.
  • Let go of that voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough.

When you let go of these things you don’t need, you will find your creative core at the center. And that’s where truly transformative blog posts come from.

4. Lead yourself forward.

Guide your blogging decisions from a place of strength and self knowledge.

Take time to ask yourself what you actually want from your blog.

Why do you want to grow an audience?

What is the message you care about so much that you’re willing to write about it week after week for the foreseeable future?

How do you want to earn money?

How can you grow your online presence and feel good the whole time? (Or at least most of it?)

Create a foundation for your blog and your business. Base it on self knowledge and thoughtfulness.

Then when a decision comes up like, Should I buy this course? or Should I put ads on my blog? you can go back and make your decisions from a place of strength and self trust rather than fear.

If you’re a blogger, you are a leader.

You’re someone who wants to serve people, to change how they think, and to educate them. And you must do that from a place of strength and trust in yourself.

If you’re a blogger, you're a leader. So trust yourself to lead your blog forward. Click To Tweet

So treat yourself like the powerful, trustworthy person you are.

  • Only make commitments you can keep, and then show up for them.
  • Listen to your intuition.
  • Let go.
  • Lead yourself forward.

When you fully trust yourself as a blogger, others will trust you as well. And then you can finally reach the more people and make a greater impact with your blog.

How to Stop Listening to Blogging Gurus and Stand Out Online

To become a successful business owner or blogger, you must know how to stand out online.

But here’s the real, painful irony: in pursuit of writing a popular blog or getting clients, so many of us (including me) get caught up in trying to use other people’s formulas.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid clicking on blog posts with titles like “5 Blog Post Templates That Will Knock Your Readers’ Socks Off” or “My Simple 7 Step Formula for Getting a Bajillion Email Subscribers in 2 Days.”

These posts promise quick results for little thought or ingenuity.

As fallible humans, we want results and success fast. So we do our best to imitate the strategies of others. Only to make blogs that are the same as everyone else’s.

And then we wonder why we’re not getting thousands of readers like the “gurus” we’re attempting to imitate. We’re left thinking there’s something wrong with us for not being able to use these formulas to catapult us into instant success.

But here’s the truth.

Formulas won’t make you stand out online.

Formulas won’t make you a success.

Formulas won’t bring you instant wealth and fame.

Only your own ingenuity, creativity, and intuition can make you stand out online. Only your inner wisdom, grit and determination will bring you the success you are looking for.

So throw out the formulas. Don’t expect someone else’s blog post or online course to give you the keys to the castle.

Want to stand out online? Be authentic.Click To Tweet

What you have inside of you cannot be replicated. It’s your secret sauce. Your magic juice. And no one else has it.

So, how do you access that magic juice and use it to stand out online? Here are a few ways. (No formulas included. I promise.)

1. Use your intuition to come up with blog post topics.

Throw out your lists of headline hacks and blog post templates, and instead, rely on your intuition to guide your planning.

In a recent episode of my new favorite podcast, Unthinkable, The Role of Gut Instincts in Content Marketing, Jay Acunzo and Tim Jensen explored the idea that your gut feeling or intuition isn’t some magic spiritual thing. It’s actually your subconscious mind, which is guided by your deep well of experience and knowledge.

You probably know a lot about your topic, your unique approach, and your audience. So you can trust yourself to use that knowledge and insight to inform your blog post ideas.

Sit down and do some deep thinking.

Feel into your intuition and ask yourself these questions:

  • What do my readers need to know right now?
  • What message am I aching to share?
  • What deep questions am I grappling with?
  • How have I profoundly helped someone recently?
  • What’s a simple thing I know a lot about?

Let your blog post ideas come from a desire to genuinely serve your readers and clients, rather than from an attempt to make something that you think people will like.

2. Reframe how you think about your online marketing

All too often, we think of our blogs like megaphones, our email lists like cash cows, and our online marketing activities like tentacles intended to draw people in. Ick.

Let’s reframe that.

Your blog is meant to be a conversation starter and an entry point for people to learn about you.

Your email list is meant to create a relationship between you and your readers. It’s a list of people whom you can serve and from whom you can learn.

Your online marketing is an opportunity for you to find ideal clients, collaborators, and mentors, and to build genuine relationships with them that are beneficial to both of you.

Even though you can’t see your readers or email list subscribers, they’re actual people. (If I sound condescending, know that I’m writing this to myself just as much as to you.)

So follow the same social guidelines you would in person.

Be helpful. Be curious. Be real. Be open.

Start conversations. Connect on an emotional level.

Forge genuine connections. That’s how you’ll stand out online.

3. Stop trying to grow your email list

Have you noticed that most bloggers are obsessed with growing their email lists and page views?

I get it. Believe me.

But the reality is most of your email subscribers and readers are on a bajillion email lists and read thousands of blogs. So seeing those numbers creep up doesn’t actually mean that much.

While everyone else online is trying to get more, more, more, you could be doing something truly remarkable: trying to get to know the people who already showed you they’re interested in your offerings.

Imagine you’re at a party, and you’re talking to someone who seems fairly interesting.

After a few minutes of conversation, he asks you if you want his business card and he takes yours in return. As soon as you pocket his card, he immediately moves on to someone else. The next day, you get a generic email from him that makes it clear he has no idea who you are (probably because you’re one of dozens of people he barely talked to at the party).

But at the same party, you meet a really nice guy who takes the time to get to know you. He asks you about yourself. He hangs out with you for awhile and asks some deep questions. After talking to him, you feel seen and heard. And when he emails you the next day, he mentions something you discussed the day before.

Which of these guys would you be more likely to hire or do business with? Probably the second.

Unfortunately, in the online world, most people are like the first guy. They want your email address, and they want thousands of other email addresses, too. But they don’t take the time to actually get to know you or what you need.

So, how do you stand out online? By being like the second guy. By inviting actual conversation with your readers. By getting to know them. That’s how you’ll convert visitors into clients.

Can you still grow your list to thousands? Of course.

But first, focus on understanding your current subscribers. Figure out what they want, what drives them and who they are. Then use that to grow.

4. Be realistic about what you can solve for your readers

Many online marketers will tell you to figure out what your readers are struggling with the most and then create something that solves their problem.

Which sounds good and all. But often, our readers’ greatest struggles are large and complex and can’t be solved with a free PDF or email course. (I know, I’m disappointed, too.)

But, ever the good students, we try to create quick solutions to problems that can’t be solved that easily. And our resulting freebies leave our readers feeling like failures.

So instead of trying to make something to solve your readers’ greatest pain point, make something that actually solves a small problem, instead.

My friend Kathy was struggling to grow her email list. Then she created some beautiful goal sheets for a talk she was giving in Sonoma California, where she lives. She decided that since she’d already made them, she would put them up online and see what happened.

Her email list grew by hundreds and then thousands. It’s 2 years later, and she still gets about 20 opt-ins per day. (Yeah, I know.)

She told me that she thinks people are downloading them in droves because she made them to be used.

What can you make to be used?

5. Trust yourself

What drives us to search for easy, quick formulas and solutions?

In my experience, it’s uncertainty, fear, and perfectionism.

This online marketing thing is hard. So is owning your own business.

It takes courage to write a blog post and put it out there, to email a group of people you’ve never met, and to ask for a sale. It’s freaking scary sometimes.

So we go on a search for the “right way” to do things for fear that we’ll make a mistake.

But making mistakes is actually a good thing. It allows us to learn and hone our craft. It is part of the process of making something truly unique.

When we try to take shortcuts, we end up short circuiting our creative process and making stuff that looks like everyone else’s.

But you don’t have to do that. You can trust yourself.

The next time you feel that fear, that doubt, that anxiety creep up, ask yourself, “How would I move forward with this? What’s my best solution right now? How can I get playful and creative in this moment?”

Trust yourself and make something that’s truly a reflection of you.

To stand out online, stop listening to the blogging gurus and listen to yourself, instead.

  • Use your intuition to guide your blog post ideas.
  • Reframe how you think about your online marketing
  • Instead of focusing on growing your list and page views, get to know the people who are already in your community
  • Be realistic about the problems you can solve
  • Trust yourself

Here’s one final thing to think about.

This is not just about learning how to stand out online. It’s also about giving yourself the permission to be real, to be creative, and to make genuine connections. Which, in my mind, is far more important.

8 Reasons Writer’s Block is Kicking Your Butt (and how to defeat it)

writers block

I am a writer. It’s a core part of my identity. But lately, I’ve been struggling with writer’s block.

And today when I woke up, I knew. I knew that I needed to jump back into it. I was kick of writer’s block kicking my butt.

So I sat down and I wrote a headline. I checked it with the Coschedule Headline Analyzer. Score: 55

I rewrote it. Still 55.


I walked around. And then I realized something.

Writer’s block is real.

I/You can’t just sit down and push through it. We must go in and understand it first. Only then can we lovingly get back to writing.

Here’s why you and I might be battling with writer’s block. And how we can overcome it and get back to work.

1. There’s a truth you’re hiding from.

The worst writer’s block I ever experienced was in college. My senior project (called a Div III at Hampshire College), was to write a collection of poems. I thought it would be the best thing ever. I loved writing poetry and suddenly, all I needed to do every day was write a poem.

Oh boy was I wrong.

I was in a terrible relationship, but I wasn’t willing to admit how unhappy I was. Because I was unwilling to face this nasty truth, I could barely force myself to write.

Writing poetry became torture because of this stuck truth.

Now, coming back to my blog after letting it rest for a few months, I feel some truths hiding in the dusty corners of my body.

Here are the truths that are keeping me from writing:

  • I’m ashamed that I stopped blogging for a few months. But I can’t do anything about it.
  • I feel such a strong need to write something perfect, something share-worthy, something for my ideal clients, that I don’t let myself write anything. (Even while claiming I’m anything but a perfectionist. Oops.)
  • I’m a little burnt out and I’m not sure how to get un-burnt out.
  • I shifted my focus away from blogging and now I’m back again, coaching content marketing, and I feel like a weirdo because of it.
  • I want to have all the answers. But I don’t.
  • I struggle to claim my own expertise.
  • I don’t want to get trapped in the stats-hungry approval-seeking always-distracted pattern I found myself in a few years ago, and I’m afraid that if I fully commit to blogging again, I will go there.
  • I lost myself in the online content marketing world. Then I found myself. Now I want to go back into it, but how do I know I will keep being me?

There they are. My truths in all of their beautiful (ugly) glory. And reading over them, bringing to light the places I’m getting in my own way, gives me resolve to write consistently again.

In other words, now that I see my enemies, I can destroy them with a stroke of my keyboard. (Or something like that.)

So…if you find yourself stuck and unable to write, list your truths. You’ll probably get the juices flowing.

2. You feel like everything you write has to be perfect.

I mentioned this in my list of truths, but it bears repeating. Because this nasty devil gets in the way of so many writers and bloggers.

It becomes nearly impossible to write when you feel like you need to create something perfect every time.

Your creative muse can’t be heard when your inner critic keeps shouting, “Nothing you write will be good enough, you fool!”

And the sad but amusing truth is that without writing a lot of throwaway posts, it is very difficult to write truly masterful ones.

Without practice, how can you ever expect to master a craft? Even Harry Potter needed to go to Hogwarts for 7 years before he could defeat Voldemort.

Here’s how to get around that perfectionism:

  • Accept that you are on a path of continuous growth in your blogging and writing, and the only way to get to the next step is to write something.
  • Do another art form where the perfectionism hasn’t taken hold. That will loosen your muscles and remind you that you don’t have to be perfect.
  • Make a goal to write a shitty blog post every month. You might be surprised at the great post you write when you sit down to write a crappy one.
  • Use the rules of writing practice. They have singlehandedly defeated my need for perfectionism many, many times.

3. You’re out of the habit.

This one is huge for me.

It’s like working out. For 8 years (!) I did yoga 3 times a week, every week. I was addicted to it.

Then I moved away from Denver, didn’t find a yoga studio I loved, and stopped. I’ve gone to 2 yoga classes in the past 2 years. (Slinks away in shame.)

The same thing happened with writing. When I first started blogging, I wrote every day. Then it shrunk to 5 times a week. Then 3. Then 2. Then 1. You get the picture.

One of the reasons I haven’t written a post in a few months is simply because I let blogging slip out of my weekly schedule. But once I sat down to write this post, after shaking off a few cobwebs, I was back in business.

And here’s the thing. I looooove writing. Writing this feels like a big drink of water in the desert.

So when I say to make it a habit, it’s less about painstakingly setting aside time to write, and more about remembering how much you love it and fitting it into your day.

You don’t even need to do it at the same time every week. Just give yourself a number of posts to write each week or each month, and then write them.

You can make it more fun for yourself by creating a writing space, making a delicious drink to sip while you write, or coercing your dog to warm your feet while you write.

Once you start writing regularly, it’s a lot easier to keep going.

4. You’re focusing too much on strategy and not on depth or vice versa.

For some people, blogging is a purely strategic move.

For me, it goes deeper. Way deeper.

When I write something, it has to matter to me. It has to contain some nugget of truth. It has to touch down to my core.

So when I try to write posts that are purely results oriented, it feels really hard. Instead of being a pleasurable experience, it’s like wading through sludge.

But when I just write for myself, without taking my business goals into consideration, it’s less exciting. Because I know my post won’t speak to my clients or bring me business.

That’s why it’s so important to find a balance between strategy and honesty. Between you as a business owner and you as a human.

So when you sit down to write, find a topic that lets you intermingle your expertise with your truth. Choose to write posts that deeply resonate inside of you and that speak to your clients as well.

How do you do this? By knowing yourself as well as you possibly can, and by understanding your readers and clients to their core.

When you are an expert on yourself, your work, and your clients, your intuition will naturally guide you to the post topics that serve you and your people the best. It’s a matter of getting curious and trusting yourself.

And if you don’t know yourself and your clients that well yet, just write the best thing you can. This is a process. Remember that.

5. You are stuck in the comparison trap.

You want to write great blog posts to bring in more clients. So you go into the wide world of the internet, and you find posts that other coaches or therapists are writing. You read them for hours, and then you go back to your blog.

And here’s what you end up thinking: “Shit. How can I write anything when everything has already been written?”

So you close your laptop, go watch Netflix, and put blogging off for another day.

Yeah, that feeling sucks. A lot. I know because I’ve experienced it more than once.

But getting through (or around) it isn’t as hard as you think.

Here’s how you get past the comparison trap:

  • Lean into your own expertise and your knowledge of your clients first. You may not be a blogging expert, but you are an expert in your business. Start there. (And if you want to become a blogging ninja, let’s talk.)
  • When you see a post you love, instead of feeling overwhelmed or less-than, get curious. Ask yourself how you can improve upon it or write about it from a different angle.
  • Take a minute to sit down with yourself and give yourself a huge dose of self-love. Remind yourself of how brilliant and amazing you are. And give yourself a hug. Because the only way out of comparing yourself to others is a deep knowledge of your own worth.
  • Focus on learning from your peers instead of comparing yourself to them. What can you learn from the posts you love about how to be a better writer?
The way out of comparing your blog to others is a deep knowledge of your own worth.Click To Tweet

6. You don’t trust your voice.

How do you write?

Do you sit down and hammer out an entire blog post, and then go back and reread it?

Or do you bleed out each paragraph and question yourself the entire time?

You may think that the second option makes for better writing.

It doesn’t. It makes for more painstaking writing.

When you continuously stop and question yourself throughout your writing process, you prevent the flow of words from coming out. And as a result, it takes hours or days longer to write a blog post.

Dude. Stop torturing yourself.

When you sit down to write, grant yourself a temporary pass. Tell yourself, “Self, I will trust you for the entire time I am writing this post. I will let the words flow as they will. I will suspend my internal editor for now.”

During the time you write, only hang out with your inner writer, your inner creative. Your intuitive, trusting, loving self.

After you finish writing, you can invite your editor back in to help you polish your post. Don’t worry. She’ll still be available.

7. You expect your first draft to be fantastic.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When you finish writing your first draft of your blog post, you don’t have to publish it.

You are allowed to go back and tear it to pieces, rewrite it, rework it, and make it into something way better. Or discard it altogether.

Your first draft doesn’t have to be good. Because no one is going to see it other than you. You can write 5 first drafts in a week and then only salvage one.

That’s okay. At least you’re getting better at writing and blogging.

8. You are product oriented rather than process oriented.

What’s the goal in writing blog posts?

It’s to get more clients, yes. But it’s also waaaaaaay more than that.

In the process of blogging, you…

  • Get clearer about how you uniquely serve your clients
  • Discover what you care about the most
  • Become a better writer
  • Build relationships
  • Exercise self discipline
  • Learn things about yourself you never would have known otherwise

It’s the act of writing that makes all of these delicious things happen.

Get out there and write your next blog post. Your inner writer is waiting for you.Click To Tweet

writer's block

Here are the 8 reasons writer’s block is kicking your butt:

  • You aren’t facing some hidden truths
  • You are being perfectionistic
  • You’re out of the habit
  • You’re not striking a balance between strategy and depth
  • You’re comparing yourself to others
  • You’re not trusting your voice
  • You’re not letting yourself write crappy first drafts
  • You’re focusing too much on product rather than process

Luckily, all of these things can be overcome through trusting yourself, using your intuition, and knowing yourself and your clients deeply. (A nice dose of discipline won’t hurt, either.)

What do you do to overcome writer’s block? Share in the comments below!