The Story of Alisa, Part 5

21 Lessons I’ve Learned From Blogging

During my first year of blogging, I learned many things about writing, blogging, and life. In no particular order, they are as follows:

  • If you make fun of yourself, people will laugh and feel a kinship with you. If you make fun of others, people might laugh, but that will come at the cost of losing your friends and becoming the least loved person in your family.
  • Sometimes all the inspiration in the world can’t turn a thought into something that’s worth publishing. The process of trying to turn it into something worthy of publishing isn’t a waste, though. All writing – even bad writing – is a practice and a warmup for better writing.
  • The topics that I almost don’t write (no one wants to know about this, this is going to offend some people, I can’t believe I’m willing to talk about this) usually end up being my most popular posts. This might be true for your writing, too.
  • Have the courage to be controversial. Strong convictions, points of view and voice are what make one blog stand out from the millions of other blogs on the Internet.
  • To write with a strong voice, you need to do two things. First, have the courage to be you. Second, read your writing out loud. That’s the only way you can hear whether or not your voice is truly in your writing. I read every blog out loud before I post it. It not only helps me to Voice It Up, but it also helps me to catch typos.
  • There are people whose have made it their goal in life to make other bloggers feel sad. Ignore these people. Their anger says a lot more about them than it says about you and your writing. If your writing attracts trolls? You are doing something right. You are Troll Worthy.
  • Occasionally you will accidentally offend people with your writing. Even if no normal person would have ever misunderstood your point, it’s better to apologize in the comments area or write a formal blog apology.
  • In every post, make it your goal to lift people up and help them improve their lives. Do not spread ill will. Although that tactic does work for a few, it doesn’t work for most, and it’s bad for your Karma.
  • Every post should accomplish a goal: to help, to teach, to inspire, to entertain, to provide comic relief, and so on. If the post serves no purpose? It’s probably not worth posting.
  • There are many ways to promote your blog and find readers. The three tactics that have worked best for me: guest blogging, writing controversial list posts for social media promotions, and publicity. Most bloggers forget about the third. Getting quoted on a news site or high profile blog can bring you thousands of visitors in a day.
  • You can overcome a fear of public speaking, especially if you are passionate about what you are talking about. Speaking about what you blog about is another powerful way to promote your blog—and get paid in the process.
  • Writing in your own voice can induce a state of bliss that is more powerful than any street drug or trust fund—even if you never earn money for this writing.
  • When you first start blogging, you’ll hear many stories about people who monetized their blogs quickly. The went from zero visitors to a million in one year and no income to 6 figures in the same amount of time. These people are exceptions to the rule. If you try to reach the same goals in the same amount of time, you’ll end up in a mental health hospital. In reality, it takes the rest of us a long time to earn money for this type of writing.
  • Don’t get attached to having a certain number of web visitors, comments or subscribers. As long as these numbers are consistently growing—even if just by a little bit—you are doing something right.
  • Whenever you are feeling down about your traffic or comments, say something about feeling down in your Facebook status update. Your Facebook friends will make you feel loved and appreciated again.
  • Sometimes no one will comment on a blog post and it will make you feel like no one is reading. That’s not necessarily the case. It might mean that no one feels comfortable leaving a comment about that topic.
  • Store all of the nice emails your readers send to you in a folder. Read them whenever you feel like quitting.
  • Never stop learning. You can always get better.
  • It’s really okay to talk about your sex life and other intimate details, as long as you are sharing these details for a reason. It makes other people feel normal about their intimate details.
  • Connect with other bloggers. When you feel unloved and alone, they will come to your rescue.
  • Help others with your writing. It gives you a life purpose, which generates a wealth of inner peace and happiness.
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The Story of Alisa, Part 4

Words started coming to me. I would be walking down the street in New York, pass a pregnant homeless woman, not give her money, walk another block, hear a gay rights activist ask me for money, write a check to said activist, and think, “I should write about this.” So I would.

I would get in a huge fight with my husband and think, “I should write about this.” And I would.

I would wake up at 3 a.m. with words in my head. I would move them around and put them together until I was wide awake. Then I would turn on my computer, write them all down, and go back to bed.

Most of the things I wrote had no point whatsoever. They were writing for writing’s sake. I had no idea what to do with them or where to go with them. I only knew one thing—the process of it all gave me more joy than anything.

One day, however, I was walking my dog and I was thinking about the type of warped individual who would plan her very healthy husband’s funeral down to the lamb-on-a-stick she would serve the mourners. And then, just like that, the following words came to me, “I knew something was terribly wrong with my marriage when I planned my husband’s funeral.”

When I got back to the house, I wrote that sentence. Then I wrote a bunch of other words after it. I’m sure I should have been working on something else, no doubt something health or diet related, something that I was actually getting paid to write. But I could not stop myself. Before the words stopped, I had an entire chapter.

A few months later, I had 100,000 words.

As I edited—adding more words and deleting close to 60,000 others—I still had that sense that something was in me trying to get out. I decided to start a blog, too. I worried, though, about having enough material. Would I, after a month or so, sit in front of my computer and say, “That’s it. Nothing else to say. Done with this. Blog fail.”

So I carried a yellow legal pad around with me and jotted down one possible blog topic after another. And then I wrote something like 10 blog entries, just to see if I had it in me. Since I wrote all 10 in the same day? I figured I did.

I started this blog.

No one read it at first. Well, let me rephrase that. No one except for my mother, my brother, a few friends, and my literary agent.

But that changed. I had 60 monthly readers for a while. I imagined that they all knew me in some way. They’d worked with me. They’d gone to high school with me. They read my blog because they felt sorry for me.

That sort of thing.

Then, one day, I was looking at Google Analytics and I noticed something strange. I had readers in India. And Pakistan. And in Australia. And a lot of other places where I wouldn’t expect people to be reading my blog because no one could possibly know me there.

My monthly numbers climbed to 200 and then 500 and then 1000 and then 7000. I stagnated there for a while. That was a bad time. I became obsessed with my web traffic. I became depressed about my web traffic. I became demoralized about my web traffic.

I decided that I sucked, was the world’s worst excuse for a blogger, and nobody loved me.

Then an editor found my blog, loved my writing style, and offered me a job as a relationships editor at a large women’s website. Then the recession took place. The website lost its funding and I lost my cool little blogging job.

I felt a sense of impending doom. I was sure I was about to become a big public failure.

That was pretty scary.

I wallowed in doom for about a month.

Then the blog traffic started improving, by a lot. It went to 10,000 then 12,000 then 15,000 and up and up and up. People started emailing me, telling me how much I was helping them. I got emails that said:

“For years I have been trying to find someone that would understand me and I came across your blog and I said to myself, ‘OMG, this is me!’”


“I laughed and laughed when I read your blog. OMG, I had to read it to my husband. I just love the humor in your writing style. I too LOVE to write and your writing style and accomplishments are very inspiring to me.”


“Your site has brought me a sense of calm to know that I am not the only one who feels the way I do and has/is experiencing the same challenges I find myself experiencing. I enjoy your humor, being a jersey born gal…sarcasm is in my blood and I’m also quite blunt and direct in my views and in expressing myself.  Sometimes when I read your blogs I’m like, ‘OMG, that is EXACTLY what I think!’”

I saved them all in a file on my computer that I called “Feel Good,” and promised to read them whenever I felt like I was a failure.

The traffic and feedback gave me the courage I needed to try to find a publisher for my book. And when I still didn’t have the courage to do that, my literary agent kicked me in the ass (very gently of course) and told me to get over it. So I did. He sent out a proposal. People liked it. I met with various editors. Running Press agreed to publish it in 2011.

And then really strange things started to happen. One day I got an email from a magazine writer, asking me if I cared to share my best sex tips with her readers. Another day someone from wanted to know my take on Jon and Kate’s marriage. Yet another day a writer from wanted to know why I thought marriage was not obsolete. That was incredible. Just awesome incredible.

The past year of blogging has allowed me to earn a reputation as a writer who can make people laugh and feel normal. It’s helped me become a relationships expert who offers advice from the trenches. It’s allowed me to develop my voice and find that unique take on life that only I have.

It has allowed me to very publicly have the courage to be me.

I finally know that I am a writer—a real writer—one who can change people’s lives with the words I put on the page. That’s a phenomenal feeling.

If I pass on nothing else from taking the time to write this life story, I hope I can at least pass on this advice. Do what you most enjoy in life, even if it won’t make you rich. Do it for the process, even if no one understands why you enjoy it so. Do it for the joy of it, even if it brings you no recognition or fame. Do it for yourself, even if no one else thinks you are good at it.

Do it because you have no other choice, because not doing it would make you feel dead inside.

There’s nothing stopping you from living the life you love. But you.

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The Story of Alisa, Part 2

What I should have been when I grew up

When I was in 5th grade, I wrote a series of book reports for extra credit. My English teacher gave me a C- on each and every one of them. When I asked her why she had not given me the A+s that I’d become accustomed to getting, she said, “I gave you a C- because you can’t write.”

Well, if you read Part 1 of The Story of Alisa, then you know that I was not your usual kid. Your usual kid might have been a little disappointed. Your usual kid might have said, “So I can’t write. But I’m good at math and history! And what President has ever needed writing skills anyway? That’s what speech writers and ghost writers are for!”

I wasn’t that kid. I was the kind of kid who, when a person tells her she can’t do something, becomes downright determined to prove that person wrong. Because, after all, that person IS INDEED WRONG. I was brilliant. Even my grandmother thought so.

So, on that day, I decided to become a writer. That would show Mrs. C.

Then in 7th grade I took an aptitude test. I was sure that the test would reveal just one thing. It was this: I destined was to become America’s next great Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

But that’s not what the test found. No, according to this aptitude test? I had great aptitude to become a mail carrier.

Now that I had to prove Mrs. C and the aptitude test wrong? A career in writing was almost inevitable.

Plus, it must be said that some member of my family who was very loosely related to me had worked as an editor of some sort at a publishing house somewhere in New York. As far as I was concerned, a career in writing was in my blood.

So, in high school, I started writing for the school paper. That, don’t you know, I won a Scripps Howard Journalism Scholarship to Penn State. I was really proud of that fact.

Penn State decided that I was not smart enough to enter as an honors student or start during fall semester with the other really smart kids. I had to start during summer session, with the kids who were deemed not quite as smart. The admissions people apparently had never had lunch with my grandmother or aunt. If they had? They would have accepted me for fall semester because they would have known about my brilliance.

I now also had to prove to Penn State that I was smart enough to be an honors student.

When my journalism teacher gave me an F on my first assignment? I called my mother at 5 a.m. and cried my heart out, telling her that I sucked, was fat and was going to drop out of school. She sent me flowers and told me she loved me.

After I finished crying, I realized that dropping out of school would mean that Mrs. C was right. It would also mean that I did not have what it took to be an honors student, and that Penn State probably shouldn’t have accepted me at all.

If I’d dropped out of school, I also would have had to pay back my scholarship, because, it would have meant that another kid deserved it more than I did.

I pulled myself together and pledged to not only become an honors student, but also convince Professor Johnson that I deserved to pass her class.

I got an A. Professor Johnson went on to mentor me and become one of my most favorite people of all time.

I became an honors student.

I got a job at the Writing Center as a writing tutor. I helped some of Penn State’s football players pass their writing comp classes.

I became a reporter and then an editor at the student run newspaper. I met some of the coolest and most talented students at the Collegian–students who were better writers and reporters than I was. Even my grandmother would have agreed. They awed me every day.

Along the way, I also did the following: perfected the art of the keg stand, swallowed a goldfish while it was still alive, did shots of all sorts of varieties of alcohol, painted my face blue and white, threw marshmallows at my fellow students, spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not the library was haunted by the student who’d been murdered in the library’s stacks years before, and overslept my 8 o’clock classes. This was all a normal part of Penn State life.

Despite all of that, I graduated with a really ass-kicking GPA was invited into Phi Beta Kappa.

Now I’m going to give you a Cliffs Notes version of my career, because 1) it seems only fitting since I just told you about college life and Cliffs Notes are a big part of college life 2) I can’t think of much of anything interesting to say about the various jobs I’ve held other than the fact that I held them. So here goes:

  1. I got a job as a newspaper reporter.
  2. I really didn’t like knocking on doors and asking grieving parents for photos of their dead children, so I quit after three years and, instead, got a job working as a staff writer at a publishing house. While there, I bought my first home computer. It was a used 386 PC that the company was getting rid of. Another highlight from these years: I met my husband.
  3. I got bored writing A to Z health encyclopedias, so I quit that job and instead started working as an editor at Runner’s World. While there, I ran three marathons. Another highlight from these years: I married my husband.
  4. Eventually, I realized I could make more money as an independent contractor, so I quit that job and went freelance. I doubled my salary that first year. I now support my family with my income.

As a freelancer, I ghost wrote 7 NY Times best sellers and got published in Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Yoga Journal and more.

Mrs. C? Soooo wrong. So, so wrong.

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The Story of Alisa, Part 1

As far back as I can remember, I saw my life from afar, as if it were a movie that I was watching. I could even hear the music as the camera faded in on my life.

As a young child, I was telling stories, writing them down, and illustrating them.

And I was reading—book after book after book.

And I was learning new words. I loved words.

And I was setting up a little table and sitting behind it and pretending to be a newscaster on television.

But I didn’t want to be a writer of books or movies or of the daily news. No, I wanted to be either a brain surgeon or President of the United States because those pursuits would impress my mother and make her love me more than my brothers. Note: This quest—to get my mother to love me more than she loved my brothers–was a competition created by my own warped mind. My parents always, without fail, said they loved us equally. I choose not to believe them.

This brings me to a huge segue because, to understand why I had a warped mind, you must know a bit about the line of people who came before me.

You see, I inherited this little gene that makes me special. It’s a gene that seemingly makes people brilliant and creative, but also somewhat neurotic, in a very endearing way, of course. This little gene has been passed down from one generation to another. Among other things, it seems to cause the following:

  • Insomnia: I get all sorts of important things done at 3 and 4 a.m., whether it’s updating my status on Facebook or cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen.
  • Catastrophic worry: I have a headache; It might be a brain tumor! What’s the noise? There must be a serial killer hiding in the closet!
  • Delusions of Grandeur: I won’t just become a writer; I’ll become a writer who wins a Pulitzer. I won’t just write a book; I’ll write a NY Times bestseller. I won’t just get on TV to promote my book; I’ll get on Oprah. I won’t just go into politics. I’ll become President of the United States.
  • Highs and lows: During a high phase I can get 59 things done in a day because I am the super mother who does not sleep! During a low phase I get little done because I suck, I’m fat, I’m washed up, I’m past my prime, and I’m worthless. Oh and nobody loves me.
  • Fear of heights.

As a result of this gene, I’ve been a professional consumer of various forms of therapy, self-help and all good things that are thought to help people like me ever since my early 20s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s back up to 4th grade, when I still wanted to be President. As I said, I wanted to be this because it was untrumpable. With the possible exceptions of being the first human to walk on Mars or winning a Nobel, there was nothing my brothers could accomplish that was more Parent Attention Deserving than me becoming President.

And even though all of my 4th grade classmates laughed at me when I mentioned this career aspiration, I never doubted myself because my grandmother and great Aunt (who both hail from the Delusions of Grandeur side of the family) always told me that I was brilliant and that I could accomplish anything. For a brilliant and beautiful girl like me? Life had no limits.

My great aunt and grandmother told me that I was brilliant so often and so earnestly that I completely believed them, despite lots of evidence to the contrary. When I was not accepted into my school’s gifted and talented program? The other kids must have all cheated on the test. When my repeated attempts at the PSAT and SAT produced appallingly average scores? The test had a religious and sexist bias.

I thought I could do anything. I thought I could be anything. I thought nothing was outside of the realm of possibilities.

So, of course, I would become the first woman President.

That is, until I decided to become something else.

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The Story of Alisa, Part 3

My loving dog.

In my early 30s, I had everything: a marriage, a house, a successful career, a dog, friends, volunteer work, a garden, and a book club.

But I felt incomplete.

What I really needed? A baby.

My husband didn’t think I needed a baby, though. He thought I needed an unattached life, the same unattached life that he needed.

It took a while to bring him over to my way of thinking. In August 2004 we had a baby.

Not long after that? My hair started to fall out and my marriage started to fall apart.

I also did not sleep for an entire year, which had a negative effect on my career. It’s hard to cover up the fact that one’s brain isn’t quite operating at full-power when one dials into a conference call not just at the wrong time, but on the wrong day. Ditto when one doesn’t show up for a training session because one thought said session started at 1 p.m. instead of 11 a.m.

And because I was moody and boring and self absorbed and never wanted to leave the house because I was too tired to stand up? I grew out of touch with my friends.

And I stopped reading books because, whenever I opened one, I fell asleep.

So I stopped going to book club.

And I resigned from my position as chair of a volunteer organization because the idea of doing anything other than being a mom and a writer made me feel overextended.

Weeds took over my garden. Then the grass came. Soon you couldn’t tell that I ever had a garden.

But my dog still loved me. Dogs are good that way.

My dog’s love, though, wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling misunderstood, overwhelmed, and alone. I don’t recommend those feelings if you can avoid them.

It was a hospital-based stress reduction class that changed everything. I signed up because my internist suggested that the tingling sensation that I noticed periodically in my right arm was not a sign of an impending heart attack, but rather a sign that I had a stress disorder. He prescribed the class. I was such a mess that my health insurance covered the cost.

By the end of the class, I felt like I’d escaped from a Matrix. My entire life seemed different. I felt in control of my destiny again, and I started to take charge.

I started a marriage project, one that spanned 4 months and involved reading 12 marital improvement books. I took charge of my career. I re-established some friendships and made new ones, too. I started attending book club again.

I got myself together. And then I felt inspired—more inspired than I’d ever felt in my life.

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