Discover more from Letters by Deepa
No. 21 | Lessons from a year of writing
From fear to flow, and the future of Letters by Deepa
In January of 2021, I dared myself to begin putting more of my writing out into the world, and started Letters by Deepa on Substack. Eighty people signed up for the first letter; today, I have 418 subscribers and am grateful for each one.
I don’t always meet my bi-weekly deadline. But committing to sending out a letter worth reading every two weeks has pushed me to write, gave me permission to play, and enabled me to grow. Most importantly, starting this newsletter allowed me to move past a huge creative block that was holding me back.
And that was fear.
How it started
I knew 2021 would be the year I would begin writing openly about my open marriage (no pun intended). It was already an open secret among my friends. I had already started writing my memoir, which I had no intention of burying in secrecy.
I was working up the courage to do it. I just didn’t know how I would do it yet.
Writing the first few Letters by Deepa, I spent way too much time and burned way too much mental fuel brainstorming “appropriate” topics to write about. It takes a lot of energy to tiptoe around the elephant in the room.
What held me back was fear. I was terrified of being judged for the way I choose to live my life, and writing about it.
Inside my head was a cacophony of critical voices, a radio drama in which I was running around playing multiple characters, all of them judging me. I feared both the anonymous viciousness of the Internet, and silent judgment from people I consider friends.
Who are you creating for?
Being commissioned by Gal-Dem to write about attending a Zoom sex party gave me the opening to push past my fear of judgment.
This changed the audience I was creating for.
For the first time, I wrote about sex for an entirely different readership. One that had no idea I was so wholesome, that I was a wife or mother, that I was a former Catholic schoolgirl who’d spent 11 years in a choir. Nor did they care. They were there for a good story about an unusual experience, and for sex.
Sharing that article here was my first breakthrough. The imaginary critics were replaced by… *crickets* deafening silence. Surprise, Deepa!
No one cares about your sh*t.
Not as much as you think they do.
Get over yourself!
It was a rather rude awakening, but a necessary one.
When I stopped censoring myself from writing about topics that I thought would call on fire and brimstone from God and the Internet, writing became so much easier.
My writing flowed, and so did I—with ease, abundance, and joy.
Totally unscientific proof: It took me 3 hours to write one of my first posts, which looks brave on the surface (because, nudity).
In contrast, it took me 40 minutes to write my favorite (and so far most shared post) of 2021. I still recall how my body buzzed and hummed with energy as I was writing it. I’ve learned to pay attention to that feeling.
When I applied this principle to the writing of my memoir, the results were similar. I wrote one of my most difficult chapters (packed with bad decisions) in the spring of 2021. It took me over two months.
In contrast, I wrote one of my difficult chapters (guess what… more bad decisions!) in November 2021. It took me six days.
Creating for community, not for critics
One concrete thing that helped me give up my fear is being aware of the imaginary audience in my brain. I used to mentally anticipate what critics/judgers/bashers might say, and write in response to that.
Sometimes I still do; I’m better at catching myself now.
Writing for the people who receive this newsletter has transformed my mental picture of the audience I’m writing for. Why twist myself into impossible knots to explain myself to the closed, fearful, petty, envious, small-minded?
Now, when I write, I write for you.
You, who are curious, creative, and kind. You who are generous of heart, open to delight, thoughtful, smart, and brave. As I’ve come to know you are.
Even if sometimes you don’t think so.
The biggest thing starting this newsletter did for me, was to help me find a community of people that want to read my work, that I can trust with my vulnerability.
When I open up, go deeper, venture further into uncharted terrain, enough of you reciprocate for me to know that I’m reaching someone. And that I should keep going.
I treasure every reply I’ve received. Each one has helped dismantle the imaginary chorus of critics. Every word of encouragement replaces the words of judgment that I hear from the voices in my head. Instead of those voices, now I have your letters.
You don’t need a subscriber list of 400+ to replace the critics in your head with a better, more encouraging audience for whatever audaciousness you are creating.
Finding community could look like choosing one or two accountability buddies, calling on your best friends to pull you through a rough patch, or joining a virtual writing group (London Writers’ Salon, which meets four times daily on Zoom, is my favorite).
Chances are, these will be people who are also creating something, or have some kind of passion, goal or ambition. People who aren’t up to anything don’t generate any energy and so have none to share with you. Distance yourself creatively from them and thank me later.
How it’s going: Letters by Deepa in 2022
In the past year, I’ve paid attention to which letters get responses and shares. I’ve learned what I like to write and what you like to read. I think I’ve hit upon a happy intersection of both.
Here’s what you can expect from me this year. I’m going to focus my writing in five categories, shown below with examples of my best posts in each (totally stole this format from Wesley, thanks man!).
Sex & Relationships
Didn’t we all read salacious novels and know where all the good parts were? If you’re here for my open marriage posts, you can skip to the juiciest bits here.
Posts in this category include:
A Writer’s Life
In case you haven’t heard: I’m writing a book! Memoir updates, notes on my writing process and all things book-related.
Mini personal essays. Snapshots of life, ordinary moments mined for reflections on the self. Do you recognize yourself in any of them?
Posts in this category include:
Motherhood & Family
By now, being a wife and mother is baked into me. The trick is how to juggle that with everything else I am—or am trying to become.
Posts in this category include:
I love narrating my essays and stories, but don’t do it as often as I should. I need to record more of these!
Is there anything you’d like to read more of, that I haven’t covered here? Let me know.
I’m sure that due to my goldfish brain, some letters will fall into the cracks and end up in none of these categories. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise you and me.
2022 hopes and goals for Letters by Deepa
To find a new name for this newsletter. I chose this name in a pinch/without much thought. I think I’m outgrowing it. It doesn’t really say anything about what I write about, topics I didn’t want to specify because I was too afraid. Well, that phase is over.
To grow my subscriber list. Finding a home for my work, whether in print or in m ore inboxes, is one of my main goals for 2022.
In publishing speak, this is called “growing your platform.” Bigger numbers would really help me convince agents and publishers to take a chance on me and my book.
I would love to hit 1,000 subscribers this year, which means putting myself out there more: pitching stories to editors, submitting essays, asking to guest on podcasts.
Be warned: I aim to be everywhere. You may get sick of me.
To send out weekly letters. The thought of committing to more frequent writing makes my armpits sweat. But the way of growth demands commitment.
More of my writing! How do you feel about it? Is weekly too spammy?
To keep writing for you and growing with you. It really is that simple. Thank you for being here. I hope we all grow together.
And because I really love hearing from you:
How do you want to grow this year?
In which area of your life does fear hold you back from growing?
Do you have an audience of critics in your head? Whose voices are they?
Who could you be creating for instead?
Do you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions as to where I could take Letters by Deepa this year?
As always, I love to read your replies, so write me! And if you like any of the posts I’ve recapped, please share it. Whenever you do, a baby alpaca is born smiling. I swear.
I wrote this because I felt that last week’s Covid diary (yet another one, yawn) was so lame. I hope this makes up for it even a bit.
After recovering again, I’m finding new energy to restart my year.
The trial period is over; I’m ready to take on 2022. Are you?
See you in two weeks!