How I Got My Start as an Advice Columnist

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I’ll have readers write in quite often asking me how I got my start as a writer. The boring truth is that I’ve been writing with a fury since I was eight years old. The story as to why that happened is actually quite short: Mrs. Bagley, my teacher at the time, thought the fantasy stories I was writing were marvelous and took a special interest in me. She told my parents that writing was my gift and what I should pursue.

As it would turn out, even though I never stopped writing (and had my first short stories published in magazines at 12), I focused more on music as a young person — and for much of my young adulthood, gigging was how I supported myself financially.

I did go on to have some formal writing jobs later, too — I worked as a small town newspaper reporter and a magazine editor.

“Yeah, But How Did You Get Followers?”

But I find that this is not what readers are asking when they ask how I got my start. They usually want to know how I ended up with the large audience I have on this website. How I got followers. And how I ended up getting paid for my work and published in a variety of ways.

A lot of this how-to information is widely available.  How social media and the writing and publishing industries work are all open secrets. It helps that I understand statistics and can analyze them (since I used to work as a researcher and am good with numbers).

But beyond that, it’s a fairly straightforward process. You try things and see how people react and then you try something else informed by how the first try went. Rinse, repeat. And you figure out where what you can do intersects with what actually interests other people.

(I would add the advice to stay authentic to yourself though; don’t just copy what other people are doing if it isn’t you. You’ll be miserable, and it won’t work.)

How I Got My Start as an Advice Columnist

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an origin story to tell as far as building a following. Because there’s a simple reason I’m doing any of this at all — it’s because I accidentally became an advice columnist.

Here’s something I posted to my personal Facebook 6 years ago (over a year before I started daily posting on this site):

I received a long message from someone in a far-off city today who reads my essays and is seeking my advice. The question as well as the answer I’d write have definite blog potential, but good gravy, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m an odd choice for an advice columnist. For starters, I’m a weirdo, overly analytical, and generally reluctant to give advice.

At the time I got this first advice letter, I was pretty mystified. I wrote maybe one blog post a month back then — on the site that would become this one and then a few more informal notes here and there other places (Facebook, LiveJournal, FetLife, etc.) — and had been doing so for a handful of years.

Writing blog posts was more of a coping mechanism. I’d undergone a lot of personal change at the time — having moved cross-country, gone through a divorce, lost about 160 pounds (I used to be rather large), tried open relationships, discovered the kink scene, etc.

Yeah, so much change was a lot to process. I ended up doing a course of long overdue assertiveness therapy, and during that time, I continued to write sporadic essays about going through counseling. No one much was reading — just a few friends and the occasional stranger — so I was very frank and forthright. But I didn’t think much of it.

I continued writing as my life got more stable, and I went back to school and became a researcher. And after I became a learning and development manager at a psychological consulting firm.

My Friends Surprised Me

And then one day I got this random letter seeking advice, and I was surprised, so I posted to Facebook about it. I expected my friends to laugh along with me, but they didn’t. In fact, a dozen of them popped up and told me that I gave great advice. That they thought I would be a wonderful advice columnist. (As I’ve written before, I was the go-to advice friend for an awful lot of people at the time.)

After they spoke up, I made a joke in that thread:

I imagine other people saying to themselves, “Really? Page giving advice? Bitch, please. I’m twice the writer and thinker as that girl. Dafuq is that shit.” And Other People, you may have a point. 

But my friends were having none of it. And one in particular who is whip smart and actually quite critical of other people replied to this self-deprecating comment with: Yeah, but you’re the one they’re asking.

Encouragement continued to pour in. It came on the original status — and also through private messages, in which multiple people were urging me to consider writing more in public, to make more of a go of it, invest significantly more time in it.

It wasn’t until about a year later that I did finally start the Poly Land project in its current form: Daily posts with a very open-minded, alternative relationship vibe — often specifically about non-monogamy but not always. And yes, featuring a lot of advice letters. (Which I now get a lot of.)

I’ve Come to Realize that A Lot of Voices That Have Value to Add to the Conversation Are Often Reluctant to Do So

Why did it take me so long to start writing more in public, even with other people urging me that I should?

Well, as I mentioned in the previous section, I’m a person who is generally reluctant to give advice. I don’t assume that people care about my opinion or want to hear what I have to say.

You can see how this conflicts with pouring a lot of time and other resources into creating a platform!

However, I’m told by those same friends who urged me to build a platform that this reluctance leads me to write very thoughtful, well-rounded pieces. Since I don’t expect people to automatically agree with me or care about what I write, I typically take some time explaining what I mean and also leaving room for issues to be complicated, in my answer and beyond.

Part of what I do when sit down to write isn’t necessarily to follow whatever the current trend of the moment is — i.e., the thing that literally everyone else is talking about on social media or their own platforms — but to say things that I haven’t heard anyone say. Sometimes not ever, sometimes not recently, other times simply not enough.

Not all of the posts I write are about world-breaking issues for me. For example, I will often cover newly formed words or concepts (or at least one new to me) that I simply find neat.

And sometimes it will be a story from deep in my past that I do care an awful lot about — but have only found the words to explain. Or have only discovered the lesson there, with time and reflection.

I write on a delay. Some articles I will start and only finish years later. I also schedule posts several days ahead. A lot of times when I wake up, I have no idea what’s coming out that day (which is nice honestly, because if people say mean things about my work, it’s easier to not take it personally because I’ve emotionally moved past the moment in which I wrote it).

Just Because You’re an Unlikely Choice, It Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have Something Important to Say

Anyway, it’s an interesting gig. Writing is hard work, no matter what kind you’re doing. It takes a lot of discipline. The pay (if any) is terrible, especially in the beginning and for an awfully long time after that.

Yes, even if you work seven days a week and have no work-life boundaries, as I did in 2016-2017, when I was working full-time as the manager of a training department at a psychological consulting firm, publishing blog posts daily, and editing my first book Poly Land, which I had written in 2012 as a private debrief of my rough introduction to polyamory.

I don’t recommend starting a platform to anyone who isn’t up to a serious challenge and isn’t extremely self-motivated and can’t focus and force themselves to continue working when they don’t feel like it. Even if you have all those qualities, I still hesitate to recommend it. It was that hard.

But there’s something important I’ve learned. There’s a stereotype about The Writer, The Author, The Artist, The Blogger, The Advice Columnist (all creatures in the same zoo to be honest).

The stereotype is that they must believe passionately in their own work and think they’re God’s gift to the written word. Or if you’re working in a niche, like where I started, and you’re writing about, for example, polyamory — there’s this idea that you have to be the Grand Expert on Polyamory, an ideologue who is driven with evangelical zeal to touch the world with your grand, underappreciated ideas.

Sorry, chief, but that ain’t me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve run into lots of folks who WERE the stereotype in my time on this zany bizarre journey… the stereotype is there for a reason.

But my favorite folks, as a reader and as someone who works in the niche (and these days, beyond), have always been the people who were actually sort of bemused and reluctant. They always seemed to have the most interesting things to say. And I was inevitably glad their voices were part of the conversation.

So that’s been one of the biggest lesson of the past handful of years: Just because you’re an unlikely choice, it doesn’t mean you don’t have something important to say.

In fact, it often means the exact opposite.

Featured Image: NONE – Pixabay