When the leaves dance: thoughts on developing your voice.

Dear Hannah,

My English teacher told us yesterday to write in our own voice and not to write descriptively, saying “can I have some water” instead of “may I partake of that liquid refreshment?” This slightly goes against everything I’ve ever learned about formal writing. I love writing descriptively and making the leaves dance between the trees rather than just fall to the ground! Do you have any advice about a balance between voice and still wanting to paint a picture?

Thank you,

T

Continue reading “When the leaves dance: thoughts on developing your voice.”

Writing & speaking as a career.

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Over the years, many readers have asked about my career as a writer, blogger + speaker. I think it’s time I wrote a post answering the most frequently asked questions. Enjoy, sweet ones. I look forward to many more honest posts like this one.

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Did you always want to be a writer?

Always. It was my grandmother who started telling me, when I was only 7 years old, that I was going to write books. She was going to see my name on bookshelves one day. The way she believed in me planted something inside of me and I started writing as much as I possibly could. I wrote novels. I would avoid going out to play with the neighborhood kids because I was too busy creating. I had a neighborhood newspaper every month where I would interview the neighbors, write articles, photo-copy it, and then deliver it to their door.

When the internet became a thing, I was a frontrunner as one of those original website creators. I think I was 12 or something. I would give hair and makeup advice to other teen girls. I taught a slew of pimple-faced teenagers how to kiss boys, even though I had never kissed a guy myself.

I didn’t write much in my teenage years but I was incredibly hardworking and motivated to create and I think that goes even farther being a good writer. Me being a good writer is a God thing. I never took a writing class or worked to develop my craft. What I always needed to keep developing (and still need to) is my character: the way I discipline myself, how I approach others, the balance I keep between work and life, the way I treat others. There’s no way I want to pin such a big chunk of my life to writing about humanity and then not be a good human at the end of the day. That would be a pure let-down.

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So how do you become a better human?

I stick close to my bible. I apologize when it’s necessary. I try, daily, to swallow my pride. I do my best to learn people’s names. I push myself towards decreasing little by little every single day. I am not a perfect human by any means. I drink too much tequila sometimes (sorry mom) and I don’t know how to take care of a garden. I want to curse out Sallie Mae on a daily basis and I get hangry sometimes. All is practice, all is process.

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When did you start your blog?

I created my blog is November 2009 during my senior year of college. At the time I was the assistant editor for our college’s newspaper and I was writing a column called “As Simple as That” twice a month. My friends kept pushing me to start a blog as a spin-off of that column but I honestly had no interest in blogging.

In 2009, blogging was becoming the biggest trend out there. Everyone was convinced they could become a famous blogger and make a ton of money. I was told by numerous people that in order to “succeed” in the blogging world I would need to have a niche, whether that be fashion, fitness, food or something else. But I just wanted to write about life and heartbreak and how hard and beautiful this whole humanity thing could be.

I created a blog and started writing about my life and was honestly so repulsed by it. That blog page lay dormant for a few weeks because I just didn’t care to tell the world about my love for yogurt or college escapades. Blogging about my life felt self-absorbed. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of friends who really thrive with lifestyle blogs but I didn’t want to be a blogger at the end of the day– I wanted to be a writer.

Making that distinction– the one where I decided to whole-heartedly pour myself into using the blog for writing practice– was the best launching pad for me and my writing career. It allowed me to snag bylines for magazines. It allowed me to guest blog all over the internet. It came me street cred and told future employers that I was both committed and dedicated to my little corner of the internet.

As for what I decided to write about? I got real and then I only wrote about the things I actually cared about. People. Life. Falling in love. Mainly my blog was, and continues to be, all my thoughts on growing up and getting through this “adult” passageway. It was supposed to fail miserably because there was no niche for my blog but luckily, in the last few years, there has been a surge in my kind of blog– a blog that features vignettes and column-style posts. I like to think I was ahead of the trend on that one and it made all the difference.

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So you make a ton of money off your blog?

No, that would be a myth. I can honestly say I don’t make any money off my blog. For a long time, and still today, it’s just never been a space for that. I could have chosen to go the route of advertising or sponsored posts but I have never wanted my life to be dictated by numbers, metrics, or the need to get comments.

Trust me, I played the blogging game hard when I first came on the scene. Blogger etiquette would be that if you visit someone’s blog and leave a comment then they come back and leave a comment on your blog. Check out some of my posts from 2010– up until about August or September– and you will see a massive amount of comments. That’s simply because I was building my readership by commenting on a lot of other people’s blogs.

This works. If you want a lot of comments, it works. But I don’t think that for my life it was a sustainable practice. I found myself being so consumed with readers and getting more comments that it sucked the joy of blogging away from me. From that summer on, I decided I never wanted to do anything to compromise the joy I got from my blog.

As for money, all my income comes from speaking engagements, being a spokesperson for various brands, writing books, and taking on freelance copywriting and consulting projects. I buy my coffee every morning because of these budget sheets.

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Favorite thing about blogging/writing?

The readers. Absolutely the readers. I love responding to emails and getting big chunks of human hearts in my inbox. It’s my favorite thing ever. Humans are so freaking cool and I am just honored to be the person that people think to send an email to after a first Tinder date, a friendship break-up, a diagnosis, or a big loss. Going through life with people– whether I’ll ever meet them beyond a screen or not– is what I was made for.

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Least favorite thing about writing/blogging?

People can be insecure. And rude. And mean. And they manage to take it on you. For a while, I had one individual who went so far as to create a blog site for how much he/she hated me. It was really nasty writing and it made me want to quit.

You have to have thick skin to be a writer. You have to get over yourself and be willing to take the good hits and the nasty punches. They will come for you at every angle. I don’t think any writer comes out of the ring without bruises from the critics.

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The writing industry talks a lot about the importance of “growing a platform.” What are your thoughts?

Platform is your presence on the internet. There really is no way of getting around it. While I don’t think you should give your whole life to growing a platform, it’s important that you give people a way to follow you as you grow.

Personally, I hate the term “followers.” It’s amazing to me that I even manage to have 1 followers because I really am not a person who deserves to be followed. I’ve abolished that word though and I would prefer to call anyone along for this ride with me a “reader” or “someone who is willing to show up at 2am at a sketchy diner and eat pancakes with me.”  can’t tell you the last time I checked on my blog metrics or email list. It’s not that I don’t care about who is reading, I just don’t need to pat myself on the back for growth. God will do what he will do. He has taught me in the last years that it’s not about the big numbers, it’s about being faithful with whoever he brings to me.

My biggest pet peeve is when people go to follow me on a social media platform and they immediately make a comment about my number of followers. It’s not about that and if you want to make a big stink about how “big” your following is growing then you aren’t in for the right reasons probably. Wanting to have a lot of eyes on you is a slippery slope. I think it was Beth Moore who said that people crave a human worth worshipping and it’s wise of us not to deliver. That’s why we see catastrophes in the news like the Duggar debacle and the Mark Driscoll scandal– I think we invest too much energy in worshipping our own man-made altars and we forget that humans are always and often going to fail us.

Last thing I will say about platforms: just be real. We need real people. We need to know what your heart actually thinks and feels. Don’t imitate. If you find yourself comparing too much to other blogs and accounts then stop reading and following. Save your soul.

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How did you get into speaking?

Speaking was an absolute miracle/accident from the very beginning. I never would have been able to tell you that I was going to speak. But I think I held it inside of my heart for a really long time and I was too afraid to tell anyone that I wanted to write and speak because I thought they might think I was stupid and naive to want that path.

I remember standing in a church one night, nearly a year after I moved away from New York City, and I finally gave it up to God. I whispered into the air, “Okay, I want it. I want to write and I want to speak. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.” It’s not that God can’t honor our prayers without us even muttering them but I think he might take great delight when we finally get honest and just admit that we’ve wanted something all along.

Several days later, I got an email from TED.com. I was a finalist for their Global Talent Search. I’d sent in a 60-second video to them months earlier and completely let go of the dream when I clicked the “send” button. Turns out, they wanted me in New York City about a month later.

I practiced. I stuttered. I stole a mail crate to bring on stage with me. I nearly vomited as they were mic’ing me up and I honestly don’t think anyone in that audience who worked for TED believed I was actually going to pull it off. I was a nervous mess and had to rewrite half of my talk the night before the audition.

Executing that talk as perfectly as I believe I could have done it at that stage in my life is one of the biggest accomplishments I hold up to God and give him credit for. I came off the stage and one of the TED producers grabbed me. She was crying. I was crying. It was absolutely the best night of my life and that had nothing to do with giving a TED talk, it had to do with overcoming a fear I’d let grip me for far too long.

Unexpectedly TED took my audition and put it on their website in November 2012 as a TED Talk of the day. I was absolutely floored and there was no time to brace myself for the changes that were about to come my way– an agent, a book deal, and speaking engagements all around the country.

Thanks to TED, I was propelled into the speaker circuit. I am by no means an expert, I am simply figuring it out as I go. I travel several times a month to colleges, universities, conferences and events. I tell my story and speak on the power of presence, intention, and being real and rooted in the digital age.

Me speaking on a stage every week is proof that God exists and he plans to use the ones he knows won’t have a choice but to give him all the credit. I can’t take credit for being able to speak– an anxious girl like me should never be capable of that. But he does immeasurably more with our weaknesses than we could ever imagine.

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You went self-employed in 2012, what did you do before you worked for yourself?

I was in the field of Human Rights. I really thought I would give my whole life to that.  I worked as the New York representative for a NGO at the United Nations my first year out of college. On the side, I was a preschool teacher in the Bronx, a freelancer for New York Moves Magazine, a fitness blogger for several platforms, and a researcher for my favorite nonprofit She’s the First.

I’ve never not known how to have my hands so completely full with lots of jobs.

After the UN, I took a job on the PR Team at Save the Children. I moved to Connecticut and started writing press releases, working with the news, doing interviews, and managing our team of interns in both Connecticut and Washington D.C.

It was during that time at Save the Children that More Love Letters started and then blew up. It was nothing I planned for. After being at STC for a year, it started to become evident that I needed to look for a freelance position. I was 24 years old and I had this company getting larger and larger everyday. It was the time in my life for me to leap.

I went self-employed in July 2012 and worked as a content manager for Danielle LaPorte as a I gained traction. During my time of working for Danielle, I built up my speaking resume and signed with a literary agency in New York City. I only worked for Danielle for about 6 months but I learned unreal amounts of wisdom from her. She was the jumpstart for my journey and so I try to pay it forward and be the jumpstart for others.

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What are some of the hurdles of being self-employed?

People have this misconception that all people who are self-employed do is sit in coffee shops and cry over feelings and eventually evolve into coffee snobs. That’s not true.

I go to an office every single day. I pay the rent to be there. I am the farthest thing from a coffee snob and would prefer the stuff they sell at the gas station over anything. I cry a lot, sure, but I am extremely diligent and I work far more than I probably should. I have struggled with a lot of balance issues and, if it was possible, I would absolutely date my work. I would make out with my work. I would marry my work.

But I realized about a year ago that I was an extremely uninteresting human when you finally got me into a date setting and I needed to get some hobbies. In order to make room for hobbies, I had to start setting boundaries and more balanced work hours.

When you are self-employed, you are your own boss. You make the rules. That can be a blessing but also a curse. You have to figure out all that health insurance stuff and retirement things on your own. I still don’t know a thing about any of those things beyond the fact that I picked Geico for my car insurance because that dumb, little lizard won me over.

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How did you find your literary agent?

She actually found me! On the day my TED talk went online! And boy, did she pursue me. We met up in coffee shops and had hot chocolate dates and she wrote me sweet notes and gave me books. She was everything I hoped and prayed for in a literary agent– someone who would work with me, protect me, cheer for me, but also someone who could be a friend to me. Mackenzie is all of those things. I honestly cannot imagine my life or my career without her.

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What was the process of writing a book like?

Painful? Excruciating? Agonizing? The best experience ever? All of the above?

The four months I was given by my publisher to write my first book were an absolute whirlwind. When I wasn’t speaking at some college or conference, I was holed up in a hotel room or my office writing words until long after the sun went down.

Writing that book was like enduring an all-day workout every single day. It was painful and it demanded much of me but it made me a different human. It pumped me full with life. It helped me shed off a lot of weight I was carrying about my past and I was thankful for the process in the end. I can’t wait to do it again soon.

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So are you writing a next book?

Yes, absolutely. But I am taking the time to live as well. When you write a book, everything in your direct radius gets arrested by that work– your relationships, your health, your time, your resources. I am mentally and physically preparing myself at this time to go into the long-haul for book number two.

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What advice would you give to aspiring writers out there?

Just start. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for the moment when you feel inspired or ready. You will be waiting forever if you are looking for that “ready” feeling. I really have no mercy in this area.

Commit to the craft. Whether it’s 15 minutes a day or three hours a week, commit to the craft and let it know that you are planning to take it seriously. There a million and one people out there who can claim they are writers but a writer is simply someone who writes. Consistently. Against the odds. Even when they don’t feel like it.

Writing is not, and never will be, a sexy dream job. It barely pays the bills. It demands all the emotions. It hurdles you into awkward conversations. It makes it terribly hard for you to date people because they will constantly be thinking of how you plan to write about them. It leaves you with dirty hair and a brain that forgot to shower for the last week. It’s overwhelming and it’s brutal but it will make you feel so damn alive. From that first byline to that first glimpse of your name on a spine, it’s all the alive you’ll probably ever need.

The book is ready for pre-order!

To my readers,

I’ve written and rewritten this post about a dozen times.

Every time I think I’ve nailed it I sit on the backspace button and start over. My heart is thudding. My lungs are full of breath that I don’t know how to release. I am more nervous than that time Andrew U. asked me to be his girlfriend in the 8th grade and I fumbled to change my relationship status in my AOL profile (yes, I was severely nervous about that one).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I could either dress this post up in really pretty words or I could just come out, bite down hard of my bottom lip, and just say it:

It’s here.

It’s finally, finally here. 

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I am excited to share that my first book If You Find This Letter  (March 10, 2015) is available for pre-order!

Like, today. Like, right now. At all the major outlets where books are sold:

Amazon    B&N   Indiebound   CBD.com   Books a MIllion 

You can order it as a hardcover or ebook.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been crying all week. If you’ve followed along on my book writing journey then you know the truth already: I put my everything into this book. Absolutely everything. And you’re getting all of me when you get this book. It was exhausting & wonderful & a once-in-a-lifetime process to produce this book and I am just now getting the confirmation I prayed for this whole time: It was all so incredibly worth it. Thank you for that. 

So here’s the nitty gritty:

Pre-order sales matter a ton. They show booksellers and publishers that there is interest in what you’ve written. It would mean the world to me if you would preorder a copy of my memoir so that I can keep writing books for all of you. As a thank-you for pre-ordering, I’ll be continuously picking people out of the pre-order pile every month leading up to the release date of the book (March 10, 2015) to meet for half-hour online coffee dates. We will talk life, love, big plans, business, whatever you please! Just you + me + lots of coffee + heart stuff.

You can be eligible for a sweet, little coffee date by sending proof of purchase (a receipt, a screenshot, a selfie with your morning coffee, whatever!) to preorder@hannahbrencher.

And here’s another sweet thang:

I know March is a ways away, but I’ve got another project– a fold-and-mail stationery pad for writing love letters– that hits stores on December 23, 2014. It’s full of fun & funky prompts and it is perfect for the folks who adore snail mail.

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You can snag a copy here.

Sappy little side-note that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in this post: 

Each of you has no idea how much I’ve been encouraged by your comments, your tweets, your emails, and letters. Thank you for inspiring me to keep writing and keep pushing. I feel so blessed to have you in this community and I don’t know if I say it nearly enough: thank you for taking me just as I am. You are the gold that makes this whole life good.

hb.

It was all you had to give when you were asked to give it all.

“I poured my brain and heart into this, and maybe I’ll hate it in two years, because that’s the nature of being my age, but for now, it’s the most powerful thing I can give.”

Lorde.

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The ground didn’t shake.

The trees didn’t bend. No earthly element was pushed out of its place when the book was done. The whole week before, I’d been anticipating what would happen when I placed that last period down. Would I crawl up into a ball on the floor and cry? I mean, that wouldn’t be so different from the events of every other day after my writing hours were through. Would I finally feel a sense of peace? I’d been taking Doubt and Insecurity and Fear into the wrestling ring of my mind for the last few months and I wanted to be able to dole out a final punch of Victory that would wipe them all out. 

I had no real idea what would happen, outside of me or inside of me, when I finished my first book. The one I’ve been working on for seven months now. I just knew I had to keep typing, and keep going, and keep trying until I reached the point where I could whisper or scream, “It’s done. It’s over. It’s through.”

It was a Friday night when the first draft of the book was finally, finally finished. I remember it was dark outside already, since it was January. Earlier in the day I’d taken a walk. In the rain. Like a zombie, letting the little water pellets fall all over my skin and not really caring that maybe the neighbors thought I was crazy for walking in the rain in the thick of January. I remember praying to God, deeper prayers than usual— “Please, get this out of me. Please. Let me be finished.” 

That’s what no one ever talks about (or rarely talks about) when it comes to writing a book— it’s painful. So painful. In a way that I don’t actually know how to type but there are words waiting somewhere for me. And this is no disrespect to people who’ve felt other forms of pain, I am not trying to dishonor you. It is only to say that getting a book out of you– resolving a story that is still happening all around you– isn’t a fluffy feeling. It hurts like hell. And some days you don’t leave the room you’re writing inside of for ten hours. And other days you can’t do much more than cry. And then some days you are slamming the keys screaming, Yes, Yes, Yes! because you’ve reached a point of breakthrough— and everyone loves a breakthrough. 

And every so often I would scroll my mouse to click on the notifications for new emails. A mental break from my own words. And I would click the emails with ugly subject lines. And I would read the stories of people I’d never met who told me about loves lost and passions coming back. They left their heartbreak in my inbox like mints on pillows in the hotel room. I couldn’t respond to every single one so I’d just take a sticky note and I’d scribble down their name. I’d post it on my wall. I’d say a quick prayer. And I’d keep going. I’d keep writing with them in the forefront of my mind.

And I can only describe it all– all the hours in the writing room– as this: writing a book is like giving birth. There is the carrying of something inside of you. That something is a precious something. There are the slow and throbbing contractions. There is the heavy labor that leaves you ugly crying on the floor. There is the release— the solid release and assurance that the pushing is over. It is out of you. It is done. You can see it in your hands. You’ve somehow said all you needed to say. And it doesn’t matter if it is pretty, or right, or relevant, or following all the other writer rules— it is true. And it is yours. It is your truth sitting on the outside of you. And it is exactly all you had to give in the moment when you were asked to give it all you had. 

Most days in the book writing, I beat myself up the hardest not for the words but for the numbers.

The age that I was. I beat myself up for being young. For thinking I had anything worth saying at the age of 25. I mean, I’m 25. I’m 25. I’m 25. Can I write that again? I’m 25. And I understood why people would people look at me strange and say I was young to write a memoir. I agreed. And it probably could have been easier to just write a letter and pass it out instead of opening my mouth in agreement every time someone worried alongside me about my age:

Dear everyone, 

I am 25. Yes. 1988 was a great year. I loved being born into it. But I am starting to realize age— old or young— is an excuse. And I won’t be the kind of person who lets a number stand in the way of me knowing that life is fleeting and a lot of times we don’t get promised the things we thought we would be promised. And our loves go away. And our best friends die. And our skin shrivels. And we get sick. And it’s all scary and beautiful and reason enough to start something now. Right now. This second. Don’t even finish the letter, maybe. Go if you have to go. Life is waiting for you. 

Really, there is so much to prove my undeniable youth to the world— I still haven’t mastered the proper use of sunblock or a conventional oven. I still miss my friends from college. I still do some sort of wicked, daily dance with Sallie Mae. A boy in a random coffee shop is still capable of being the most important thing in my orbit. 

I can’t speak for marriage. I can’t speak for divorce. I can’t speak for having enough money to take myself around the world. I can’t speak for a courage I never had to hike a trail on the other side of a country or sell all my belongings and start a new life. I can only speak for the parts of me that ever wanted do something wonderful. I can only speak for how it sometimes feels like you are drowning in a world where everyone is superglued to their devices and their networks. I can only speak for how it feels to be so uneasy with sitting alone with yourself but how I wanted to gain enough confidence to finally be able to say, “I know exactly what sits at the root of me. And I’m not afraid of it any longer.”

I can only write this book from the perspective of a girl who wanted certain things when this story started— to find God, to fall in love, and to do something that mattered in the world. I can speak for that. 

— hb

Like I wrote earlier, the ground didn’t shake when I finished the book.

And nothing really felt different around me. I took a hot shower, ran my fingers through my hair as if the scrubbing motions could wash everything off of me now that it was over. I was finished. I dried my hair and put clothes on and I wore my favorite beanie and I went out to find a burger the size of my head and a glass of wine. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and yet it was all I really wanted. 

I guess I thought I would feel bigness all around me in a moment like that one— one where a first book gets finished and turned into an editor. A lot of times though— excluding weddings, or busy hospital rooms, or parties where we wear a new age— there’s no bigness to the moment that changes your life. There’s just you, in a quiet room, letting something go. There’s just you, in a bustle of a busy restaurant, finally feeling free. 

I didn’t even talk about the book that night. I kept it’s finality in my lips like a secret. I was tired of talking. For five minutes, I just wanted to be in love with a truth I’d been waiting to hold for so long: I did something I never thought I could do and it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world to believe in myself. I was actually right to believe in myself.

That’s who will you lead you in the book.

If you pick it up from a bookstore and hold it in your hands at the start of March, that’s who will wave at you from the very first page and ask you politely to take her hand— a girl who wanted to know that one day she might wake up and actually believe in herself to be something more than a mess in the world. She’ll write about letting go, and holding tighter, and waiting for things. She will write about grief and triumph and the things that have always been bigger than her but she wanted to understand them so badly anyway.  

She’ll be 22. She’ll be unreliable and yet so committed to the journey. She’ll be insecure and yet so eager to find confidence the way you find old socks beneath the bed.

She’ll be a girl who rarely knows what coffee to order, nevermind who to fall in love with. A girl who once thought being “chosen” by a guy was the end goal, the reason to show up and fight. A girl who, when she was 22-years-old, looked down and realized: the world is so incredibly big and my hands are so incredibly small. The two don’t seem to match up. But she was a girl who knew that the world never stopped needing people who were hungry for more, and she needed to not miss her casting call for that. 

A girl who, as cheesy as it seems, wished she could figure out why people sometimes call this whole life a “love letter.” Yes, she wanted those answers. And so she went out into the streets of New York City, and the subways, and the libraries, and the churches, and the coffee shops to answer that one question for herself— how do people ever get to the point of falling in love with their own life? 

Spinning straw into gold: thoughts on writing.

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For the last few days, I’ve sat in a dark room giving memories their proper burials.

I can imagine the way the funeral director wrings her hands beneath the hot water faucet as she preps to make settings of “goodbye” for so many. It feels a lot like that; writing a book is like finally saying goodbye to memories and finally having the courage to let go for good as you script just enough to tell your friend over a cup of coffee, “I’ve used up all the words. It’s over now.”

I didn’t imagine writing a book would feel this way. I’m one month into writing a book and I didn’t imagine it would be like this. I’m certain now that I will write a book about writing a book just so I can write the line, “It was the most hauntingly beautiful process I’ve ever experienced, to sit in a room and play with ghosts of what used to be all day.” You feel like you’re living six lifetimes in a single day. It’s like God is asking you to stare at all the moments when you should have been a nobler character and then learn to give grace to yourself somehow. I’m sitting on the floor, thinking of how crazy it is that I’ve worshipped a God who cakes the mountaintops with grace for me, but this is the first time I’m finally gaining enough courage to not withhold it from myself.

And I’ve never felt more human in this moment as God tells me not to stop the heartbreak, not to resolve the heartbreak, but simply to wade out into the middle of it and scream out how deep it really is. We’ve never needed one another to resolve the heartbreak for us, so much as we have needed to know that others have felt the depths of it too.

 

I thought it would be different than this.

I thought I’d sit square in the middle of a room with the sunlight on my face and the clacking of keys in my ears as the coffee neglected to grow stale and birds that I borrowed from Snow White gathered my hair up into a sock bun. Instead, it’s like somehow braiding flower crowns out of verbs & adjectives & nouns to hush out the ashes of the words you cussed on the day you discovered he didn’t love you like that any longer. Writing is just another form of polishing and prettying up the broken-open moments of this lifetime so that they can go on display for other people to interpret. Writing is just the right eulogy for all the memories we haven’t let go of yet. Enough to coax them out of our hands and onto a page.

I find myself wrapped up in a camo jacket nearly every morning. The coffee grows stale quickly. I forget to eat. I am too busy sifting and sorting words for the day. And there is something so freeing about being unbelievably imperfect on the page within a world where all I’ve ever tried to be for other people is perfect. I’ve breathed in enough gritty stories to say, at last, “screw perfection.” Perfection would mean we never let one another go. And honestly? Now I know it meant everything to unclench my fists and let it happen. Perfection would mean that the pieces always fit. And honestly? It was in the mess of broken pieces that we both learned grace. Perfection would mean it never hurt like hell with a chainsaw in its hand to see you drive away and not come back for me. And honestly? I needed to get the life socked out of me to understand how much courage it takes to get back up on your own two feet.

When I finish this book, I’ll stay there was an anthem sitting behind every word I wrangled and sweet-talked into staying on the page. It’s two single lines from a Jason Mraz song that I cannot help but listen to every single night before the world falls asleep:

And what a beautiful mess this is/ it’s like picking up trash in dresses.

Every morning, I am sitting beside piles of other people’s memories. I’m sifting through the things you’ve called garbage for far too long. It isn’t garbage and you & I both know that those feelings have never been so disposable as you made them seem. You got hurt. You didn’t win. You regretted it. You let her down. You think you cannot possibly be redeemed. And you’re no different from me.

What happened is not everything. What happened isn’t the end to our little stories. It matters more what we do with it all. The memories. The broken middles. The wrecking ball moments. What matters is if we let them keep wrecking us or we spin them into gold.

Step one is realizing that the story never owned you. It never has the power to victimize you if you change the words from the beginning. Step two is realizing that your story is a symphony. Maybe it will be a poem for someone else. A cup of hot chocolate in a styrofoam mug in the heart of October. A light on and a mother standing out on front porch saying, Child, please come home. 

You won’t know what your story will be to someone else until you actually let someone touch it and find their humanity somewhere deep inside of it. You cannot wait to know everything to finally sit down beside the page and sift through the trash of it. You just need to be willing to make piles of the things you’ve never fully understood and, from some of those piles, make sand castles.

You’ll never know what your story could be for someone else until you make that first sandcastle. Until you say to the water, “You won’t wash away these words of mine.”

That is the goal of a writer, maybe. Maybe that is the goal. Maybe this it: If I can somehow make a single sandcastle–just a single one–out of something you’ve never understood but have always felt in the deep of you, then I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll be a writer then.

Honesty in the age of catfishing.

Brencher_0410

Of all the skins I’ve ever slipped into– daughter, dancer, intern, lover, leaver– the skins of the “blogger” have been the hardest for me.

I fumble around on this page. I hide behind syllables. I make you think you’ve got me figured out and then I pull out some crazy post about a girl clawing around on the living room floor and make y’all think my heart got ripped out my chest last week.

Truthfully, I don’t accept the skins of a “blogger.” I deny the fact. I don’t read any books on the topic. I don’t think this little sucker will ever have a penny to her name. I break all the rules of Blogging 101. I don’t come to you every day of the week. I don’t visit other blogs. I am unreliable when I do come to you. I don’t know that I’m even around long enough for you to crave me. And I shrink down ten sizes in any conversation about metrics, and money, and stats. I shrink to a whisper, “I don’t care about any of the way this world operates. I just want to matter to someone while I’m here.”

That is all I think about. It’s all I really care about. I think about death & funerals & last words all too often not because I am morbid but because I realize that we are going so quickly. And I want it to have meant something. I want it to be difficult for and I to sum up.

I don’t do pretty messages. And much of what I write here cannot be tied with resolutions because life has never worked that way. My blog, to me, is exactly how I view this lifetime. It’s beautiful. It’s chaotic. But sometimes it leaves you saying, what just happened here?

I get emails from people all over the world saying, “sorry for your loss” and “hope your heart mends soon.”

They’re meshed in with a tangle of old boyfriends who think I might be Taylor Swifting them on the Internet for all the world to see.  And I can only think to say sorry. Sorry, sorry. Sorry that everything about me is unreliable except for my heart and the direction it is going in. The rest might just be fiction. The rest could be a post I assembled two years ago and never thought to let it see the light until just yesterday.  The rest was probably, certainly never about you. Or me. Or the Us that was three summers ago. (See? See?! I already had you believing that some boy from three summers ago still thinks to read me from his cubicle on days when the sun just don’t feel like shining.)

I have never been honest on this page. Has my heart been true? Yes. But have I given you a depiction of my day-to-day life, or a live stream of my heart at this very moment? No, no.

My blog has never been a roadmap to my life. Not since it started. And jeepers, if it were, you’d all think me Cray with a capital C. The closest to me, the ones who know both my eyes and elbows, take these words with a grain of salt because they understand that the boy in the coffee shop is rarely ever real and that girl waiting by the train is not me or anyone we’ve ever known in this lifetime. The corner of the internet has never been the thing I send over to family and friends to say, “Hey, hey, keep up with all the fun I’m having in this world.” If that were the case, they’d have thought I buried someone on a Monday, broke up with someone on a Wednesday, all while mastering time management on a Friday.

Two years ago, at the height of my depression in New York City (that’s about the one detail that every solid stranger knows about me), I sought the solace of a therapist. He was a nice dude. And I found out that I could not afford him one month into seeing him. I was a fulltime volunteer. I was working and living in the Bronx, New York. I would trot into his office wearing my UN badge and proceed to cry all over his pillows. And when I found out that I could not afford him, that alas, we had no insurance for that, he took me on pro bono.

“You’re doing good in this world,” he told me. “I want to do that too.” And we had this unspoken agreement that he would listen and I would cry and we’d keep our lips zipped when it came to payment.

But the poor, poor man found out that I was a blogger and even he would read my writing. So I led that man on a roller coaster as he imagined me as a single mother one day and a ramshackled vagabond on the next. On occasion, he’d bring up a post or two and I’d have to say, “YO DUDE, I’M A STEEL TRAP. Nothing you read on that blog page is going to give you the lens into how I am feeling now. Half of it is made up. These tears in my eyes are the only real thing you’ve got of me.”

He understood that in time. That not every blogger is outward about their life. That sometimes a blogger is not a blogger but rather just someone who always dreamed of people reading her with cups of tea within their hands and tangles in their hair. And printing her out on nicer paper and folding her up in pocketbooks. But not every writer or blogger or human is the one to tell the truth.

This is me falling through a window while breaking + entering on the day my hands were photographed by that typewriter.
This is me falling through a window while breaking + entering on the day my hands were photographed by that typewriter.

When you enter into this page, you tour the flickering, grainy slide show of a girl who has spent her whole existence stapling the hearts of others to her sleeves. You are touching your fingertips against her creativity, her musings, her pent-up desperation for a world in which we loved one another harder today than yesterday. You are standing in the middle of her muddy grounds and not every published thing you see here is a “blog post” so much as it is this: words strung together to try to get you closer to your own humanity.

I don’t call myself a writer. I don’t call myself a blogger. I’d rather be neither. I’m just a girl. Just a girl with a golden life who is on the cusp of 25 and she is making up new dreams because all her older ones came true in the mystery of a single year. Just a girl who doesn’t come to you in a Monday through Friday sort of way but might show up in your inbox at 1:32am with 700 words that struck her fingers at midnight. A girl who welcomes you to come to her inbox at that time, too, because she’s learned that nothing is more sacred than the feet that bring good news and she will always meet you there. I will always meet you there.

I am just a girl learning how to dance in the middle of a whirlwind. A hurricane of sorts. Just a girl who would spend all her days on hands and knees placing dignity back where it was once lost if only she could. If only she could. That’s all this blog is. That’s all my life is.

And I am fake friends with all the people on General Hospital.  And the Amish.