Anyone who writes for the internet for a living and maintains a personal blog that hasn’t been updated in over a year should not be embarrassed. She should be ashamed.
I am ashamed.
Recently I told a client that to have an effective blog, it needed to be updated with new content a minimum of 2-3 times a week otherwise it simply wouldn’t rank well on Google. My blog might stand as a testimony to that fallacy if the phrase “linda lowen” were a popular search term. Clearly it isn’t. My only competition is a naturopath in Highbury, South Australia. Since we’re in different hemispheres and on different career paths we rarely are mistaken for each other.
My heart goes out to Mary Johnson, Sarah Brown and especially Susan White who probably gets confused with the 2814 other Susan Whites listed in the US White Pages. I don’t share that problem as Linda has largely gone out of vogue since the 1960s and Lowen is fairly uncommon. All this to say that if I don’t update my personal blog but once a year, those searching for me will still find me. Fortunate me.
Before I shifted careers and became a full-time freelance writer, my words were largely restricted to specific audiences that numbered in the four digits on good days. The interesting thing about writing for a living is that the more you do, the less your ego is wrapped up in the words that end up printed…or published…or viewed. That’s not to say that it’s all about the money. Of course you want to do the best that you are capable of — as you would in any endeavor — and be true to who you are. But you aren’t going to die a painful death if a metaphor is rejected by your editor, or a sentence you are emotionally attached to is cut from your copy by a dispassionate reader who sees how fraught and overworked it is. If that’s you, then hang up your hat; you’re going to find it tough to be a writer.
I learned rejection at an early age when multiple submissions to Seventeen magazine — that tome of teen fashion for the 16 and under set — were sent back. That was probably the better lesson to learn at an early age, because it taught me persistence; I was going to sell them something if it took me 30 years. Unfortunately for my early writing career, within a year they accepted a piece for publication, and that acceptance made me stop writing. Why? Because it was a piece of drivel and I recognized it for what it was: commercial crap. If that’s what they were taking, I wasn’t going to be submitting.
And I stopped. For a very long time.
This was around the time that every girl my age who aspired to be a writer read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Looking back, a novel that actually was a thinly veiled autobiographical account of a young writer’s descent into madness probably wasn’t all that helpful to put into any young woman’s hands, particularly since Plath killed herself shortly after its publication. But when you struggle with finding your voice and being unsure about your work, it’s always an easy out to say you’ve stopped writing because you only want to produce art.
The problem is that we look to success for inspiration when it’s the failures that temper and harden us. I would have been a far better writer had I not been published at age 16, although it did help me get into every college I applied to. (Having a tear sheet from Seventeen did make me stand out from the crowd.) But ultimately it wasn’t good for me.
What’s strange is that my actual inclination was commercial at heart. When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I answered, “Work in an advertising agency.” I blame James Dickey for that decision. Somewhere I was exposed to the story of his life and his success as a novelist, and I got it into my head that I needed to write commercially to hone my craft artistically.
How many novelists of a certain age wrote copy in an advertising agency during the day and went home to their novels at night? Enough that there’s a myth surrounding that career path, a myth that lingers to this day. There’s an ironic twist in my life related to what I wanted to be when I grew up; I chose to attend a certain college partly because it offered an internship during junior year at the legendary Ogilvy & Mather agency which was built by David Ogilvy, he of Confessions of an Advertising Man fame. All I wanted to do was work in an advertising agency.
Although I didn’t get the Ogilvy internship, I did end up at another agency, but they had me do graphic design rather than copywriting. The sole copywriter of the agency was something of a legend, and in the town I live in he is widely recognized and respected. (There’s even a beer named after him produced by a local brewpub.) Even if the agency had offered me a job after the internship (which they didn’t) I don’t think the idea of the “graphic designer by day, novelist by night” fit into my strictly defined narrative of who I was and what I was going to be.
So although my professional career was launched by my graphic design skill set, the writing — which started out as a value-added skill — took me away from the drawing table and eventually put me in front of a word-processor, which is what we called computers back when MTV still showed music videos.
Back then the internet was barely understood by a public that saw computers as stand-alone devices, although I saw glimpses of it when I moved in with my college boyfriend after graduation. His job was to oversee several campus computing centers from a remote location — our apartment — where a line coming into an early computer terminal enabled him to tell users to log off before the mainframe went offline in 5 minutes so he could poke around and do maintenance and the occasional repairs.
I had no idea that those blinking orange letters against a black background would someday evolve into a WYSIWYG screen in which words online would look just like words on a piece of typing paper. That early ARPANET connection was the precursor to the internet, but little did I suspect that the end result decades later would make my career as dependent on my ability to access a computer as his was.
He used his computer to problem-solve. I write to problem-solve. That’s the life of the non-fiction writer. Every day I wield words to combat sexism, highlight misogyny and inequity, and speak up when a woman is done wrong. But that steady drumbeat of work means that when I’m able to enjoy moments of free time, writing on a computer is the last thing I want to do.
That explains my absence here. It’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.
Of course you can drop by at womensissues.about.com. There my door is always open, my voice always opinionated, and my steady readership always a given. But I’m grateful that you’ve found me here, and I hope you’ll come back for a return engagement. I can’t promise I’ll be active with any regularity, but the voice you hear is guaranteed 100% authentic. It’s me, on my own, and if you didn’t know me before, I trust you do now.