This is my 20-minute stream-of-consciousness free write for Writing 101, Day 1: Unlock Your Mind. It is also an homage to writing longhand, which was how I wrote this: with pen and notepad, a tactile, heart-to-paper art form I hope will never die.
WordCamp. It wasn’t a camp for writers, or even for word nerds. It was a camp for WordPress wonks, and I loved every second. I must have said ten times, “I feel like I’m on this level,” as I swished my hand parallel to the ground, back and forth at my waist, “And all of you are up here,” and I swished my other hand above my head. “But that’s okay,” I’d say, and I’d smile, and I’d mean it.
I was one of only a handful of writers there, one of a handful of bloggers, and instead of intimidating me, being among all those web designers actually made me feel special. At a writers’ retreat there would be so much opportunity for comparison, for reading someone else’s work and thinking I’ll never be that good, that the thought of a writers’ retreat kind of frightens me. But at WordCamp I didn’t compare myself to these people who write, but in a different language: they write in code.
The rooms, full of creatives, hipster beards and mustaches, fun colorful fingernails and patterned blouses, glasses, web designers, plugin writers, theme developers, who all make beautiful, elegant things only with a different medium from mine, they energized me instead of making me feel less than. I never felt stupid despite how much I did not know. Instead I felt awe, an emotion I predict will appear on the list of core values I plan to construct as soon as I finish this free write.
One of the speakers, Alicia Murray, when she spoke about work life blog balance she posted a slide with a quote from Albert Einstein: a fish is going to feel stupid if it tries to climb a tree (or something like that – find quote) –
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
– and I could totally relate. She was advising us not to compare, which is a very, very difficult thing to do when I’m surrounded by talented writers. But in a room full of talented code poets, I don’t compare myself. I just thank the internet gods that these poets exist so that they can make us beautiful websites on which we can write our words.
The conference, I should say for all the bloggers who follow me, was not a writing event, and it wasn’t a blogging event either. In fact, it was not a WordPress.com event. It was geared more to the nuts and bolts of designing, developing, and using websites powered by WordPress using WordPress.org (there’s a difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, in case you didn’t know). As @Ashevillean tweeted
I knew that going in, and I loved that aspect of it, but I just wanted to let all of you know that in case you are considering attending a WordCamp. There were content and beginner tracks, but you need to know ahead of time that the language you hear might be unfamiliar. I used to have a self-hosted website for my soap company, a site that was powered by WordPress.org, and so I was familiar with the language many of the speakers used: plugins, FTP, PHP.
And, with your everyday WordPress.com blogger, very little of that applies.
When we had the self-hosted site I felt like half my time was consumed with managing the website: which plugins to use, which ones had glitches, how to resize my images to fit the theme, who to host the site, how to alter colors, fonts, headers. All by hand. All with very little knowledge. And while we had complete control over the look and functionality of our site, it ate a lot of time I could have spent making soap, or better yet, writing. It was a powerful, robust platform for our e-commerce site, but for blogging, I’m thrilled to use the streamlined WordPress.com and know all that is taken care of. I don’t have to sift through 500 “follow” plugins to find the one that works. If something goes wrong with my site I don’t have to disassemble it and reconstruct, piece by piece to find where the problem was. It’s all there for me and all I have to do is pop in my words.
That being said, I like to know how things work, and I learned a ton this weekend about things I can do within my WordPress.com site to tweak and improve if I so choose, and I understand the back end of a website much better now. I feel empowered by that. On top of sitting in on some great content sessions, I took a refresher on basic CSS so if I want to customize colors or fonts, I can. I learned some SEO tips so I can become more findable when folks are searching for creative nonfiction or literature resources. I learned the basic anatomy of a blog-perfect-story, and how to find balance in my life when I add a job to the mix of blog and family.
And the takeaway I am perhaps most excited about: a link to how to determine my personal core values. Those values will provide guidance as I try to navigate my career path, my blog posts, my writing. Because it’s when you’re writing about what you care about that your voice will come through, and when you have a niche-less (i.e. everything) blog like I do, the thing that holds it all together is not a topic or a product or a theme, it’s the author’s voice. The continuity, the It thing in a flitting, butterfly-minded blog, is the voice. And the way to find and use that voice is to write about your passion, the things you value most. Like family; like words; like nature. Like awe.