On blogging, growing up, and finding my passion

The+Flatiron+Building+right+after+my+meeting+with+Jessica+Preeg.+Photo+by+Willa+Smith.

The Flatiron Building right after my meeting with Jessica Preeg. Photo by Willa Smith.

Willa Smith, Beyond Our Walls Editor

The Flatiron Building right after my meeting with Jessica Preeg. Photo by Willa Smith.

“I’m here to see Jessica Preeg?”

The security man looks up at me. “Okay, hon, let me check the list.”

He finds my name and directs me to the elevators, sending me to the sixth floor. I turn around and see two adult men standing in front of the elevator, both dressed in suits, both on the phone. I look down at what seemed like professional dress this morning. Now it looks like a pile of rags.

My dad nudges me, and I glance up at him.

“You’re doing great, Willa,” he says. “You belong here, too.”

I smile up at him, and step onto the elevator.

Meeting Jessica Preeg, a senior publicist, was my introduction into the world of publishing in many ways. I’d been in touch with her ever since she found my book blog, Willa’s Ramblings, six months prior. She’d sent me countless advance copies of books and answered my questions. When I’d asked if I could come visit her office, she’d said yes, making my heart soar. That day in Macmillan’s offices was a dream come true, and it helped me make an important decision: I wanted to be a publicist for a publishing company. And it  was all thanks to a little book review blog I started in seventh grade.

Me and Katie Butler, blogger at Katie's Book Blog. Katie was one of my biggest mentors when I was a new blogger. Photo by Willa Smith.
Katie Butler, blogger at Katie’s Book Blog, and I. Katie was one of my biggest mentors when I was a new blogger. Photo by Willa Smith.

At the beginning, writing reviews could take me an hour, simply because I had no idea what I was doing. There were no middle school classes on how to write reviews, and I sure didn’t know how to run a blog. I was learning as I went. I read blogs and copied their review formulas, and then tweaked them to fit my own voice. I emailed bloggers who were my role models and asked them about their blogging journey, and then took their advice. I made a Twitter and started talking to people. I upgraded my blog design and focused on writing better reviews over more reviews.  

Ultimately, I taught myself how to blog.

I had to learn how to write professional emails, how to get advanced reader copies, how to apply for press passes for book conferences, how to schedule meetings with publicists. Although my parents were supportive, they didn’t really understand what I was doing, so they weren’t much help. It was just me and the blogging community.

I’ve never been one of those kids whose life revolves around school. Sure, I’m dedicated to my studies and to the activities I do at school, but I’ve always been invested in my outside of school activities, too. From my job at Barnes and Noble to club swimming, I’ve met countless teenagers who have shaped the way I see the world around me.

Me and Aneeqah, blogger at My Not So Real Life. Aneeqah and I met for the first time after four years of friendship in September. Photo by Willa Smith.
Aneeqah, blogger at My Not So Real Life, and I. Anneqah is my friend from Irving, TX, and we met for the first time after four years of friendship in September. Photo by Willa Smith.

Blogging has had the same effect–I’ve met people who inspire me, other teenagers who have been blogging for just as long as me, who have struggled with the same things as me: self-doubt, time management, and concerns about the future. These people have given me perspective on my own life that no one I go to school with could. My best friends are people who live in Oregon, California, New Foundland, and Irving, TX, people who’ve shaped me just as much as my friends from Ann Richards have, but have also shared a part of my life that no one from home could.

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about how I don’t know what my life would be like without blogging. I legitimately cannot remember a time when I read purely for pleasure. A time when I didn’t write a review of every book I read, when I didn’t have stacks of books lining my walls that I had to read for a publisher.

But the thing is, despite missing out on reading purely for pleasure, blogging has given me things that I never could’ve learned just from school. I’ve had to learn how to juggle all of my activities–school, swim team, blogging, newspaper–and how to make sure I have fun. I’ve learned how to communicate with business professionals and I’ve had business cards since I was twelve. I know what I want my future career to be and I already have “work” experience.

And all of that is probably why I’m still blogging. I’ve built two blogs from the ground up and they’ve both brought me closer to other bloggers worldwide who have encouraged, mentored, and cheered me on. If blogging had been something that came easily to me, I would’ve quit a long time ago. But no, it’s something that gives me immense joy and constantly challenges me –whether it be finding an expensive but great web designer, to figuring how to format a post like I want it to be. I’ve spent the last six years developing something that now is a fundamental part of me.