Julie & Julie & Julia Part II

Julie Powell

Julie Powell

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.

Julia Child photo by Paul ChildIt’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?

16 thoughts on “Julie & Julie & Julia Part II

  1. Blogging has had a big impact in how I react when I sit down in front of a blank screen (or face a blank piece of paper). I used to say I could not free write from a prompt. I took a writing class, and guess what, we had to free write from prompts. I’d get a brain freeze every time.

    No more. Blogging has somehow freed me from that crazy idea. Maybe the blog posts aren’t brilliant or even very original, but they do come from the heart and I don’t have any trouble picking a subject and then writing whatever pops into my head.

    I don’t think blogging has changed my voice, however. I’m just as irreverent as my fictional characters.

    • I too have experienced “brain freeze” in writing workshops writing from prompts. Were you writing in longhand by any chance? I find my ideas come much more slowly and less colorfully when I use a pen.

    • Thanks so much for ordering my books! I swear I’ll order yours as well this week – as well as some others in the BBT group.

      If you can write me a rave review of one or both books, I can still include your quote in the front blurbs when I get Eldercide reprinted as Evening Falls early this fall. Same applies to other writers – this would be one more way of getting your name and a link or book title out there, especially since I’m determined to market the bejeezus out of the book!

  2. Picking up the habit of blogging every day has helped my writing immensely. It used to be a daunting task to think of something creative “on demand” but now it is easy. It is a great discipline to sharpen the creative sword of a writer. Plus as my blog has grown in popularity I now have a much larger following of readers – they like my blog posts, so they are more inclined to buy my books also. My book sales are up and new releases have a waiting audience. Great stuff!

    Marvin D Wilson

    • That’s really encouraging to hear, Marvin. I know people like my blog, but I’m not yet sure how much this is translating into book sales. How do you tell?

  3. I don’t know that blogging has changed my voice any but I do know that it has helped with discipline. I’ve also learned a lot from the research I do for my blogs and through visits to other blogs so I know it isn’t a wasted effort. BTW – there’s an award for you at my blog today

    • Thanks Jane! I went to your blog and learned you’d given me the “gorgeous” award in your B.I.N.G.O. category. That’s a compliment I don’t hear often, so I’m relishing it. Your blog is gorgeous too – I encourage others to visit there.

      Wish I had more time to pass along these awards – it’s one more thing I don’t seem to have time to get around to.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. BTW, I finished your book Pretty Is As Pretty Dies – I enjoyed it immensely. I love the humor. I’m trying to incorporate more humor in the next book in my Kooperskill series. I use multiple points of view, so that lends itself to developing the humorous side of the ageancy head, Paula Rhodes.

  4. I think I’m still finding my blogging voice, but it has certainly helped my writing discipline. I think the blog is gaining more readers as my voice gets closer to the writing voice of my memoir. We’ll see…

  5. Hi Stephen,
    I think it’s affecting my writing positively as well. But I have yet to strike a balance in terms of time commitment between my fiction and my blogging. I’m finding about three posts a week seems to be a good schedule. I seem to be getting about the same number of visits even though I’m not posting daily – can’t figure out why!

  6. Great post! I’ve been meaning to research this myself, since I was wondering how she went from blog to book, and how her voice changed, what she included and didn’t include in the book, etc. Thanks for this!

    • Hi Alexis, good to hear from you. Are you at your writers’ retreat now?

      There’s still a lot I don’t understand about how Julie Powell got so successful, and especially how the mainstream media discovered her blog. Maybe I could find out more if I researched further – but who has the time?

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