Seattle’s Public Market. (Photo by me)

The year of non-writing

Words are my job, but I wrote almost nothing about my own life in 2015.

Julie Zeglen
Jan 3, 2016 · 3 min read

On New Year’s Eve I made a list of new, worldview-changing things I did in 2015. It includes mostly good stuff— traveling to Montreal, Atlanta and Seattle; crafting a pointed resignation letter; learning to lead climb — but also some shitty stuff — sitting with someone important to me for nine hours as they received their first round of chemo.

Through all of this, I can think of only one fully constructed piece of writing about any of these defining experiences: A farewell “Letter from the Editor” published in the hyperlocal newspaper I edited and left in October.

It was a sloppy piece, but I had agonized over it. How do you say goodbye to a mass readership that may or may not have cared about you personally? That had never been the goal, after all. As a journalist, and especially as one not “from” my coverage area — an important distinction in parochial Philadelphia — my readers didn’t need to know me personally. Still, many did because hyperlocal journalism forces you to have a presence in the community you cover. So, I wrote about that.

But then there was all that other stuff. Where were the travel essays about semi-spontaneous road trips and cross-country flights? Where were the satirical think pieces about my ill-fated try at primitive camping? Where were the odes to this singular cancer patient’s unflinching optimism?

Will I remember these things if I don’t write them down?

I have wondered if I’m too self-aware to write honestly anymore. I have an editor’s eye. I know, or suspect, how my writing would be received. And because most of my writing is shared publicly these days, I’m in the mindset that everything I write has to be for something, to be published somewhere for other people to read, so I had better keep my personal life out of it for fear of, perhaps, being too seen.

Throughout the year, I wrote dozens of stories — over 150, maybe closer to 200. Some were genuinely enjoyable to work on. Examples:

  • This article actually pissed off a lot of people who live in the area who see the bike polo players as harbingers of the yuppie apocalypse. I’m proud of writing something that sounds this cool: “You’re more likely to see tattoos and bleeding elbows than Ralph Lauren model lookalikes.”
  • This was fun because I had to/got to walk five miles over two and a half hours to see Pope Francis with a rambunctious group of Polish Catholics who cheerfully referred to themselves as “sinners” to passersby.
  • I followed around two men tasked with cleaning up what are probably some of the dirtiest streets in Philadelphia — “he gets a tetanus shot every five years and wears gloves when separating recycling from trash, lest he get pricked by a needle he missed” — and their positive energy blew me away.
  • This story is about a little old Italian lady who taught me how to roll the perfect meatball. I wrote that her peers refer to her as “a saint, one who does God’s work with processed animal products and a frying pan.”

Looking back, I realize that I like these pieces best because I did put myself into them. This can’t be the case with every story, of course. But remembering the joy that came from sharing a personal experience is reminding me that I chose journalism because I am, first and foremost, a writer.

In this new year, I resolve to make the time to reflect on my life as it’s happening, as well as to take written stock of the past. My writing will be better for it.

I will be better for it.

Julie Zeglen

Written by

Writer, journalist, Philly kid.

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