Natalie Holbrook’s new book Hey Natalie Jean: Advice, Musings and Inspiration on Marriage, Motherhood, and Style, an offshoot of her blog by the same name, covers everything from false eyelashes to infertility. And while that combination might sound a bit strange to those who have never visited Natalie’s blog, her thousands of loyal readers will tell you that these seeming contradictions are exactly what makes Natalie’s ruminations on life so intriguing and entertaining.
Because Natalie simply writes what she loves, and she does it all with the wit and fervor of someone who knows that there is an innate silliness to waxing poetic about skin routines and dressing like a French girl and the almost obsessive watching of Meg Ryan movies. But she also possesses the honesty of someone who has decided exactly what is important, and she isn’t afraid to bare her soul on the topics of motherhood and home and family and being a woman.
The result is a blog, and now book, that is equal parts fun and moving, informative and funny, whimsical and thought-provoking.
We chatted with Natalie before the release of the book about her blogging origins, her writing process, and how she finally closed the doors on those nasty internet trolls…for good. –Kerri Jarema
What first prompted you to start blogging?
I started my blog for my mom! Well, first of all, I was working an office job. I think the boring office job may be one of those commonalities a lot of us bloggers share. Secondly, my husband had just landed a year-long contract in New York City and we had just moved cross-country and were settling into our new place in Brooklyn, and this was back in the day when you only had a certain number of cell phone minutes before getting charged an arm and a leg. So the blog became the best way to tell my mother all of the stories I wanted to tell her about our life in the city without going broke in the process!
When Huck was born/when you first realized that your blog was becoming hugely popular, did you ever start to worry about privacy or entertain thoughts of quitting? People often bring up this lack of privacy as a big negative to blogging — what are your thoughts on this?
Hah! I think about quitting on a fairly consistent basis, but it never really sticks. When I first started out, the blogging community was so so different. There weren’t a lot of us, beautiful photos weren’t really a thing you had to have; it was just this really accepting and nurturing environment. And then around 2010 it quickly morphed into what it’s become today; both a hobby and a source of income–a career for a lot of us–and both a force for good and for sometimes not so good.
But because my blog grew so slowly and so organically, I had a lot of time over the years to stop and ask myself: Do the good parts continue to outweigh the bad? There are a lot of drawbacks to blogging publicly, but the good bits of sharing my life with like-minded people have been so overwhelmingly positive, that I just keep on chugging. I think there is so much value in sharing our stories. Any time I think seriously about shutting it down, I’ll end up getting an email from a reader almost right away that makes me reconsider.
I once got an email from a young girl in her teens who been struggling with depression and was harming herself (she was a cutter). She wrote to tell me that finding my blog had helped her to find herself, and to see both realistic and optimistic possibilities for her own future, and that my blog had been instrumental in her finally overcoming her struggle with cutting herself. I think back to that girl a lot.I think about the tiny drop in the ocean that I am, but how ultimately valuable our tiny drops can be when they’re found by those who need them in a specific moment. I truly think that, as women, overcoming our fear of being judged, and sharing our stories openly and honestly with each other, I think it could very likely change the world.
How did the idea of turning Hey Natalie Jean into a book first come about?
I was approached by a reader who also happened to be an editor at Abrams (hi, Holly!). She had a vision, and I was so excited to be a part of it! To be honest, writing a book wasn’t really on my radar at the time, but it sounded like a fun challenge, and it was such an incredible opportunity, and so of course I dove right in! It’s not lost on me what an amazing thing it is to have had this kind of support and to be given so many wonderful opportunities. I’m really grateful for it.
You were very open about your writing process on your blog, talking about your struggles to write, how you stayed with your parents for a few weeks while you finished, etc. Do you think the process manifests itself in the book in any way?
I recently sat down and read the entire thing in one go–a very odd experience indeed, reading your own book–and it really struck me how much of a time capsule it is of who I was in those exact moments that I wrote it. I don’t know if the personal journey I went through really comes through in the writing itself–I”m probably too close to it to really be able to tell–but I do feel that it captures a moment in my life that was very important to me. The things I write about in the book are mostly universal, but maybe a burgeoning sense of the confidence I was gaining as I wrote it comes through? I hope so!
A lot of your readers are in their early to mid-twenties (some even younger) who may not be necessarily looking for advice on potty training and wrangling husbands, but your pieces on style and beauty and even home decor will be right up their alley. Was their a conscious effort to include a little something for everyone in your readers demographic into the book?
It was actually kind of the opposite! Once I really got going, I was surprised at how many things I wanted to write about. I guess I can be a little verbose? I ended up submitting over 70,000 words in the first draft of the manuscript, when we only needed about 30,000. It took a bit of work to drill it all down into one coherent a theme as possible.
You have often dealt with internet trolls and have faced a few controversies over things you’ve written. Was this ever a thought in your mind as you were writing, and in effect, adding more fuel to the fire? How do you deal with knowing that pretty much everything you do will have SOME detractor somewhere? Do you find it creatively stunting or freeing?
You hit it on the nose, that is exactly what I was grappling with as I was working on this book. Understanding my role in the junk that happens online and coming to terms with it, finding peace in it, that was a huge hurdle for me in the writing process, and was truly the best possible outcome, I think. I’m afraid I’ve been a pretty easy target in the past.
Historically I’ve been willing to give credence to all of the feedback I’ve gotten, whether or not it was valid, and whether or not it was coming from a person who was purposefully trying to cause hurt, and so whenever I did a poor job of communicating something and things would get hairy, I’d become defensive, and spin my wheels trying to explain myself out of it, rather than simply apologizing for the misunderstanding and moving on, which was a really rookie move I gotta tell you, because that is when you become food for the trolls.
When they can see you sweat, when they can see how their lobs land and get that weird, troll-y high from it, that’s like an open invitation to a feeding frenzy, buffet style. But I’ve finally realized how little it really matters, and that I can trust my intentions, and so my cafeteria is closed for business. A lot of people’s opinions needn’t be honored, is the good news. I think that applies to all of us in all of our various life experiences, online or not.
I loved your chapter on Grooves. I thought the advice was sweet and practical for the every day blues. But, you have spoken about dealing with depression/anxiety before on the blog, and I wonder why you decided to focus more on your husband’s past struggle than what you have gone through more recently. Was it something you didn’t yet feel comfortable sharing?
I actually wrote quite a bit more on the topic–specifically on my own experiences with anxiety and depression–but we had so much material to choose from, and in the end it couldn’t all be included. Maybe I’ll save it for next time?
Post release what’s up next for you? Book tour? Any other collaborations or projects in the works?
Yes! I’ll be visiting a few cities in Europe in April on a little book tour, and then a few more cities stateside come June.
Hey Natalie Jean: Advice, Musings and Inspiration on Marriage, Motherhood, and Style hits shelves March 17th (ABRAMS) Enter to win a copy of the book HERE!