WRITER SPOTLIGHT // The internet is huge and finding life-giving words is like searching for a clean-shaven man in Portland. That's why I'm introducing a writer spotlight segment here at Ink & Grace - so I can share the words of writers who have nourished, strengthened, and inspired me. I hope these original essays encourage you in your craft and introduce you to new voices who are sharing their stories with beauty, grace, and mess.
This first essay is from Katie Blackburn, writer, mama, Jesus-lover, and contributing writer at Coffee + Crumbs. Her blog Just Enough Brave is refreshing, inspiring, and so authentic. You can find her on Instagram at @katiemblackburn. I'm so honored to be sharing her words here and so encouraged by the wisdom she shares about the very best part of writing.
The first place I kept my words was a small, fabric-covered journal—black with pink and white flowers that have since faded to gray, washed out versions of their once perfect pastel. The first entry is dated December 18, 1997, and narrates a seventh grade girl enjoying her Christmas vacation. As documented by my own recollection, I went to a friend’s house, watched television, played outside and got in a big fight with my older brother. This feels accurate, so I am standing by it.
This journal followed me for two years, with a few weeks of daily musings followed by a several month break and an actual apology - me to my journal - for neglecting it. “Sorry I haven’t written in SO long,” I would open a new entry after a fairly common hiatus, as if the pages were scorekeeping our friendship. “I’ve been really busy…” I roll my eyes a bit now reading this sentence, thinking of how stressful all of my middle school obligations must have been and how early the “busy” excuse begins in life. But the pages finally did fill up with stories of friends, teachers, playing soccer, and the first time I went to a boy’s house and he wanted me to lie on the couch with him. For the record, I didn’t; sat stiff as a board with my left arm hanging as far over the couch as it possibly could. But my journal was the only one who knew of the anxiety of that decision, and it has kept the strife safe for me all these years.
As life went on, I bought new journals, and I wrote through high school and my first years in college. I shared my life like it was a secret novel unfolding for an anonymous audience, whom I imagined enthralled with the drama of my life story. I loved writing. I loved that it was just me and my words, locked away in my room at the end of the day like two friends with a secret they giddily kept between them. I loved feeling like I had said what needed to be said, that I had thought about my life and not just let it all happen without examining how and why.
I did not realize it at the time, but I was making sense of things, not just remembering them. I captured what I felt in good and hard moments, and I learned to look at the world from a perspective I could not possibly have had in the moments things were happening to me, but only after, when writing allowed me to climb to higher ground and look down.
I had no idea then, how important that view would become to my writing.
Sometime in the early 2000s blogging became a thing, and like a number of my friends I took to the internet with my thoughts. I didn’t tell anyone about it, still treating my online space like the black journal that had been so good to me as a teenager. But by 2010 I was ready. Ready for the world, ready for other eyes on my words and other opinions on my thoughts. My best friend and I came up with a fun name and our first public blog was born. I believe our most loyal readers were our parents and a few dozen of our closest friends, but that didn’t matter much. Internet fame was less of a temptation seven years ago and we wrote because we thought we should, because it was fun.
In the years that followed, real life happened. Marriages and babies. Addictions and diagnoses. Opportunities and failures. And mostly, I kept writing them down, because the habit, solidified after almost two decades, just could not be shaken. I wrote because I had to, because I was desperate for a different view. I felt compelled to wrestle the experiences of my life to the ground in words, almost as if I could not pull the meaning and purpose out of them until I could actually seem them in sentences.
Slowly, very slowly, people started to read these words. And I started calling myself a writer.
This, I think, is a pivotal point in the writing life, this space between anonymity and the tiniest audience. This is where your love for writing gets tested, and you have to decide who will get your most loyal, faithful devotion— your words, or the people who read them—and if the reasons you have always been drawn to the page can stay as pure as they were when no one saw any of them.
This is when you have to decide if your life needs the view from the top of the mountain that writing can give, or the applause of others - which feels better than many of us will admit.
I’d like to contend that while applause affirms a writer, it cannot sustain her.
But words that tell the truth can.
What I could not have told you 20 years ago when my first journals were born is that I was already living the very best part of writing, and that is the way it changed me, the perspective it almost forced me to have once the words were on paper. Sometimes it would do its magic right away, and other times it would happen later, as I viewed the memories I had captured through the lens of hindsight and the wisdom of waiting. Without fail, writing has been one of my greatest teachers; a record of knowing and being known, unmatched by the unreliable and erratic help of unrecorded memory.
Writing has been there for me in the most simple, and the most profound, ways. And while what it looks like to write has changed profoundly over the years, the fact that writing is still changing me has remained. I don’t write in my secret journals at the end of the day very often anymore, I fight for 5 a.m., and squeeze out every second I can before someone cries for ‘mama.’ What I write today is more often for the public eye than the privacy of a closed book, but I still do it because of the view it offers when I’m done. Each word is a step up that mountain; each sentence getting me closer to seeing what I could not see before. The public eye cannot make me a better person, but a different perspective sure can.
The consistent battle of my heart and mind is to remember the mountain; to remind myself that learning, both as I climb and when I’ve arrived, is the gift. We have to let writing do its work in us before we wonder what it will do for other people. But if we do, if we tell the most honest truth to ourselves first, it often follows that others will believe it, too.
I have found that a lot of the time you get both when you just do the first one - the telling the truth part - really, really well.
So write. Put down the most honest words you can find. Spill them on the page like you will lose the memory completely if you don’t. Make sense of it all right then or the next day or a year later, when the fog has lifted. One after another, give those sentences swirling in your brain a home and watch them teach your heart something it needed desperately to know. Some mountains will be easy, others will take days - even months - to reach the summit. Keep climbing. Actually writing, as it turns out, is the very best part of being a writer.
About the author...
Katie Blackburn is a wife, teacher, writer and mama of three who is still very much learning how to be a mama at all. She is saved by grace, cold brew coffee, and quiet mornings at her desk.
You can find her online at justenoughbrave.com and @katiemblackburn on Instagram.