I’ve spent the past couple of hours researching Julie Powell and her 365-day Julie/Julia Project, which led to a book deal and then a movie. I’ve learned a lot, but I still haven’t figured out how she built such an enormous following for her blog. I did find her actual blog, though – two of them, in fact – and although I may be jealous of her writing abilities, I’m underwhelmed by the look and layout of the blogs, which are elementary in the extreme. Members of Dani’s Blog Book Tour classes would have had lots of improvements to suggest. As Julie admitted when she began her second blog in 2005 before her book came out, “I still haven’t figured out all this blog crap yet. Picture, blogroll, etc.” Even so, some of her posts generated over 400 comments. Go figure.
Writing has been important to her since childhood, and she graduated from Amherst in 1995 with a double major in theater and creative writing. In her 20’s, she found herself mired in a series of dead-end secretarial jobs. In a post in December, 2003, she describes the way blogging changed her life:
This thing was always meant to last a year and no more. I knew that. What I didn’t know, when I started, was how much I would come to rely upon the feedback and encouragement and just plain daily greatness of all of you who’ve so inexplicably agreed to go through this thing with me. I am sure that keeping the blog limping along past its useful life is no good to anyone involved, and the last thing I want to do is jump the shark; I know it’s time to go. But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily happy about it.
. . . I started this project in inky isolation, to pull myself out of a tailspin of secretarial ennui. How was I to know that you were all out there? I am in a place that a year ago I could not have imagined. Because of all of you, because you kept coming back, my life has changed. I credit Julia Child’s spirit and example with the inspiration to start this crazy thing, but for finishing it, I can only credit all of you. And it’s great. But it also means I’ve come to a place where I’ve got to let go of this, and of you, to some extent, for a little while.
By this time, she had a book contract, and she put blogging aside for the duration, but she was back in 2005 with the new blog, titled “What could happen? A baleful influence on American English as a Whole.” Evidently writing in isolation wasn’t enough; as she describes in a recent interview:
I’m not one of those people who can just be like: La di da, I’m going to get my two thousand words a day. I will avoid writing like the plague. And I find the process completely exhausting. When I was finishing my book that’s coming out in December, for the last two weeks I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking. I broke out in hives. I’d been thinking about stopping drinking, but I was like, I can not do that until I’ve gotten through this book. I’ve gotta just hang on with the tools I’ve got. But the pleasure of going back and reading something that I’ve written–that I finally feel that I’ve expressed what I meant to express in a way that is evocative and provocative, and true to my experience–is so intense. It’s an addiction, really. It’s something I have reveled in since I was a small child. It’s difficult to get there, and you torture yourself getting there, but the high of getting there is one of the more profound experiences in my life. So you’re always going after it again. Even though it’s exhausting.
It’s fascinating to compare her writing in the blog entries and the book, for example in the passages describing her reaction to Julia Child’s death. The blog post, more casual and conversational, reads like a first draft for the more finely honed prose of the book. And in the blog post, she talks about learning of Julia’s death through multiple e-mails, whereas in the book, she describes first hearing the news in a phone call from her mother. But that’s literary license, and as a memoirist, she’s entitled.
In the end what I found most inspiring, perhaps even more than her fast-track success, was the way she found her personal writing voice through the interactive world of blogging. My voice has been evolving over quite a few years now, but I feel blogging is helping me take it to a whole new level.
How about you? Has blogging had an impact on your writing voice? Or on the way you tackle other writing projects?