On Writer’s Block and “Serious Writing”

Almost two months ago — yikes — I was working on a blog post for Treat Yo Self Day (which I celebrate whenever the mood takes me, tbh) when Northern California caught fire. Here I was, writing about bath bombs and shower beers while one of my best friends couldn’t sleep because he was constantly being evacuated, allowed to go home, and told to evacuate again.

(He and his family are fine, in case you were wondering.)

“How can you write about such frivolous things when people are dying,” scolded my Inner Critic, better known as my Inner Saboteur. “Don’t you want to be a serious writer? Don’t you care about real issues?”

With that, I lost all desire to write anything fun. I buckled down and focused on writing for work because I was a serious writer.

And I seriously hated it.

Here’s the thing: there are always terrible things happening. Sometimes they are as close to home as Santa Rosa. But most of the time, that’s not the case. Writing about terrible things doesn’t make wanting to write about fun things less legitimate.

If anything, it might be more important. I can’t get on Twitter without wanting to throw my phone at the wall. I can’t listen to NPR without screaming at my poor defenseless car radio. Small victories like figuring out my personal style and finding pants that fit me are more important than ever. Terrible things happen every day, and sometimes I will write about them, but there’s no reason not to write about my everyday life and its little joys, too.

So here’s to being a serious writer who happens to write about fun, frivolous things. Because the alternative turned out to be not writing anything, and that’s the worst outcome of all.

Byline Brag: September 27, 2017

While I’m normally the editor of the Schools and Business & Real Estate sections, this week I was responsible for three sections. Last week was my first time running our Your Home section, which usually runs every last week of the month.

Scrambling to fill three sections had me freaked out at first, especially since I didn’t have anything from our usual columnists. But by the end of the week, I managed to pull it off. Bring on October; I already have it scheduled.

Your Home

Any day I can comment on the craziness that is the Bay Area housing market is a good day.

If you don’t know what an Eichler home is, think Midcentury Modern. Think Mad Men. Think clean lines and lots of glass. You get the picture. If not, then here’s a picture:

Eichler Plan

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Liz, what do houses designed and built before your parents came to America have to do with today’s housing market? Aren’t you just stretching so you can get on your soapbox?”

Well, Eichler’s vision of inclusiveness didn’t stop at trying to bring the outside into the home with open designs and glass everywhere. He built for the middle class. He built for everyone. He had a nondiscrimination policy back when other developers were trying to keep minorities out of the neighborhoods they were building. That was many angle.

And now his homes sell for millions and are sought after by collectors. That’s Silicon Valley irony for you.

Read more about Eichler Homes: Modernism for the Masses here.

Schools

It was a bit of a slow news week for schools (unlike this week, which has had me running around town every day), so I took two events that happened independently of each other and brought them together into something more substantial than they would have been alone. Los Altos High and Loyola Elementary hosted green commutes last week, which was the thread I used to weave these stories together.

Business & Real Estate

A local couple donated 50 million to Iowa State’s business school, which is now being named after them. Just another day in the Los Altos Hills.

Byline Brag: September 20, 2017

Welcome to this week’s Byline Brag! I’m not super thrilled by that name for this series, so if you have any other ideas, let me know. Bonus points for puns and/or alliteration.

Today’s featured article is the profile I did on a Foothill college grad who’s also a DACA recipient. Community colleges and working class immigrant families are two subjects close to my heart, so the chance to be able to share this story with the relatively privileged readership of the Los Altos Town Crier consumed me.  It’s not just the best thing I’ve written for the Crier; it might be the best thing I’ve written in a long time.

Read more about Liliana here.

As for the rest of my stories for the week, because I poured so much of myself into this article—and because the Business section was small this week—Liliana’s story wasn’t just my favorite byline; it was my only one! But that doesn’t mean I just spent the week hanging out in the office. I covered some school events and brought my camera with me. I’m still not the best photographer, but it has been nice putting the skills I learned from quidditch together with getting to know the community that I’m supposed to be covering.

You can find my images of Los Altos High’s Green Team electric car exhibition and Hausner Jewish Day School’s Dinosaur Dig in the PDF version of the paper.

Oh man, it’s been just over a month since I posted. I swear I haven’t been lazy. If anything, it’s been the opposite problem. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to in the last month:

  • Portuguese school started again!
  • I joined the board of the Silicon Valley Portuguese Education and Culture Foundation.
  • I traded in being a non-playing manager for the Argonauts for being a playing manager of the Skrewts.
  • I started coaching SJSU Spartan Quidditch.
  • I returned to NCQC after applying unopposed for the community commissioner position.
  • Oh, and the day after I flew home from the MLQ Championship, I started working at the Los Altos Town Crier as a reporter covering schools as well as business and real estate.

Phew, just looking at that list is exhausting. It’s mostly been the last thing on that list that’s been keeping me from blogging. I’m definitely writing, just not necessarily here.

It’s taken me about a month to (mostly) bury my impostor syndrome and get used to working at the pace of a weekly print newspaper instead of a purely digital publication, but I think I’ve got it under control. Mostly. I have moments sometimes where I feel like I’m punching above my weight class, but let’s save that for another post.

I’ve decided to update my blogging schedule (yes, again) and not let all this content I’m creating elsewhere go to waste. I still want to write two original posts a week. Those will be published on Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, I’ll be linking to my stories in the Town Crier, and most likely giving a little background info on one or two of them.

Spoiler alert: I am pretty damn proud of something I wrote for this week’s paper. Come back Wednesday and check it out.

Barcelos Knows turned one sometime in the last month; I only know that because got billed for another year of owning this domain. A year ago I was struggling with unemployment and wondering if I’d ever make it professionally as a writer. I’ve gone from intern to blogger to reporter in that time, with a few relapses into funemployment sprinkled in there, but that mostly upward trajectory wasn’t all my doing. There was a lot of luck involved, but also the support of you, my readers.

Every time you tell me about something I’ve written, in person or in the comments section, helps validate me and what I’m trying to do with my life. That’s kept me going when I’ve felt like quitting, which has been more often than I care to admit. Thanks for sticking with me as I continue to figure myself out. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of your support.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Joomag Design Academy

Sometimes I get asked why I write this blog, but that’s another post for another day. The tl;dr version is that I want my writing out in the world where people can find it. I want to make a living as a writer and that doesn’t happen by firing up WordPress when the muse strikes and calling it a day. I write 3-4 posts a week, I research topics and think up new content ideas, I have an editorial calendar, I share my posts on social media, and I try to find other places to share my work. In other words, I treat it like a part-time job.

I learned a lot of this from my internship at Realtor.com, and between that experience and the work I put into my own website, I landed the full-time, salary/benefits/all the bells and whistles writing job I have now. After two months here, I’m stoked to announce that we’re (finally) launching the Joomag Design Academy blog!

I worked on magazines a lot in college, so I’m stoked to bring that experience to my work. Joomag is a digital publishing company and our platform makes it easy for anyone to create their own digital magazines, ebooks, catalogs, etc. But just because you have the means to design something doesn’t mean you know where to start. My vision for the blog was to create a place where you could learn the basics of magazine design and grow from there. It’s been so rewarding to go from having that pitch accepted to actually making it happen.

Eventually, we want to grow to the point where we have other writers and designers contributing to the blog. But for now, I’m just sitting here pinching myself.

Realtor.com Wrapup

It was only a few months ago that I poured my heart and frustrations out to the internet on how it seemed impossible to find a writing job and make a living in Silicon Valley as a not-quite-fresh-anymore college grad. This Is My Life in Silicon Valley is still my most popular post, but it did more for me than get my blog a couple thousand hits.

It got me a job. As a writer. Well, an internship, anyway. But a paid one!

While my internship has come to an end, it helped land me my first full-time writing job. (That started today!) I couldn’t be happier about being able to take the next step in my career, but I’ll always look back fondly on my first stepping stone.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from my time at realtor.com and the stories behind them.

A Grand Dame Gets a Makeover in the Berkeley Hills

This was the first thing I was ever paid to write, so it’s always going to have a special place in my heart. Being able to visit the house I was writing about would prove to be an exception, not the rule.

It’s Rude to Ask the Age of the Oldest U.S. Home for Sale (but We Did)

Is the title on the clickbaity side? You know it. It worked, though. Surprisingly well. I got a shoutout for it during our weekly meeting from our editor-in-chief and I could have died happy right there.

Zamboni Not Included: 6 Homes With Their Own Hockey Rinks

Every good content writer’s gotta know how to put together a good listicle, and this was my favorite. One of these places is even in San Jose!

Calling Harry Potter Fans: Build a Wizarding School in Your Own Home!

#notallquidditchplayers are Harry Potter nerds, but I am. So getting paid to write about it was pretty great. Utah friends: check this place out if you’re ever in the Provo area.

NaNoWriMOh Yeah, I Was Supposed to Be Doing This

Let me start with what y’all really care about: my word count. Even having made things easy on myself, I only wrote a paltry 15102 words. (Plus however many words this post ends up being.) I’ll give you a moment to heap shame upon me.

barcelos-shame-nun

This never gets old.

All done? Okay, cool. Let’s break down why this was such a failure and why I don’t actually feel bad about it.

Like I said in my initial NaNoWriMo post, you gotta know your points of failure when taking on a big project. I planned for accepting that I was gonna write some shitty drafts and that I’d have to post them to hit my word count. I got off to a decent start doing just that.

Then the election happened. I can plan for things I know I can’t control, but I can’t plan for things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Unknown unknowns, if you will. (Ugh, referencing Trump and Rumsfeld in the same post makes me sick.)

The election was a double edge sword, content-wise. It gave me the idea for the Darkest Timeline series, which I’ll be continuing. Letters to Myself will become a regular feature, too. But the thing I couldn’t plan for was how much it would sap my motivation. For every day that I was fired up to write about how fucked up things have gotten, I probably spent five not wanting to do anything at all, let alone write.

So, let’s call those 15102 words (and counting!) a victory in the name of writing in the face of unforeseeable despair. I will, at least.

I end this month with a few more wins for Elizabeth Barcelos, Professional Writer. My editorial internship was set to end along with the year, leaving me with uncertain job prospects. Last week, they decided to keep me on going into the new year. I accepted another regular freelancing gig on the same day. I have pitches that I didn’t have at the beginning of the month, work that I can send out so that I can keep writing about what I know, get paid for it, and see my name in even more publications.

I may not have won NaNoWriMo, but I’ll take my wins wherever I can find them.