When I started blogging, a little more than a year ago, I did so as an exploration of social media as a tool to reach my readers, to “build my brand” as a writer. I was curious about (and a little intimidated by) the opportunities and challenges of blogging. I had never logged onto Facebook or Twitter, and all my Friends were people I’d met and talked to in person. I’d also always thought writing a regular column (aka blog) would be fun. So I signed up for Meghan Ward’s social-media class at the S.F. Writers’ Grotto. If I could reach a few more readers, all the better.
A year later, I visit Facebook – not as often as Meghan suggested, but often enough. I post weekly to this blog, and I even tweet (though, again, not as often as successful brand-building might warrant). But here’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed: of all the posts I’ve put up—and this week, I reach number 51—I’ve left out what some might see as a key element of my “brand.”
In Meghan’s class, one of our assignments was to make a list of fifty possible blog topics. We also listed possible topics for one another. Of the list I made, religious subjects appeared a few times. Of the list my classmates made, they dominated, Why a Virgin Birth? and What Are You Praying For Now? being two of the topics suggested.
Both questions make me shudder, for the same reason that in more than a year of blogging, I’ve scarcely mentioned the words prayer, God, faith, spiritual, or religious. True, my bio states that I’m at work on a nonfiction “exploration of spirituality and sex” and my memoir covers, as its subtitle makes clear, a skeptic’s journey into prayer.
One of the topics on my own list is What I Would Never Write About, and when I consider writing on it, I’ve never thought of faith. After all, I have written about faith, in the afore-mentioned memoir. When I think of topics I’d never write about, I imagine those that would hurt people I love: a confidence a friend told me, a revelation that is not mine to reveal, etc. Deborah the Closet Monster posted, a few weeks back, on how she considers some topics off-bounds for her blog. For posting, she clarified—not for writing. This distinction is an important one, the same as we discussed last week in my writers’ group when E, writing an essay about her husband’s failing health, admitted not wanting to go into details that would pain him if & when the piece gets published. “Write it anyway,” we advise—easier said than done, when you’re breaking a taboo (or a confidence), but as any writer knows, necessary.
But those aren’t the taboos I’m talking about now. When we blog, we create a persona. We—or at least I—want to keep certain things from public view. I post a honeymoon picture on my FB Profile, where Friends (of the know-in-person variety) can see it, but not on my Fan Page. Where we went on honeymoon has nothing to do with my brand as a writer, after all. But why would I hide that I miss going to church on Sundays since Sunday became the only day to sleep past eight? That I miss communion with a deep longing and deep hunger that has surprised me? That I read the psalm appointed to Morning Prayer every day? I wrote a whole book on prayer, so why the evasion? My faith is a part of my personal life, yes—just like the photos from our honeymoon—and it’s also part of my brand.
At some level, I’m not comfortable being seen as a “spiritual writer.” I’ve had people write to me who, having read my memoir, want Part II. One man went so far as to say, in so many words, Well of course your next book will be spiritual. How can it not be?
Yes, I might have responded, all my writing is spiritual—but I’m not sure he and I would have defined the adjective in the same way. One of the reasons I chose the publisher I chose for my memoir had to do with the fact that the other interested party wanted me to say more about “my love affair with Jesus”—the kind of language that had made me a skeptic in the first place. Don’t call me a religious writer. I’m just a writer who has written about prayer.
And yet, maybe what I’m hearing right now—from myself or from (yes) God—is that it’s time to stop drawing such distinctions. What am I afraid of? Why not blog about something I wrote—and published—a book about?
What side of yourself have you revealed in your writing and then found yourself feeling protective about? When readers put labels on us we don’t want, do they define us? Is a “brand” something that can change?