What does it take to write over the long term? Amy Santee on a decade of thinking out loud in public

Leaders write out loud - conversations about writing and work

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is: what does it take to create a long-term writing practice? So I thought it would be great for us to celebrate with my friend Amy Santee whose blog, Anthropologizing, is turning 10 (ten!) this year. Amy is a user experience researcher-turned career coach for design and technology professionals. 

Why did you start Anthropologizing?

In 2011, I received my MA in anthropology from the University of Memphis. I had spent the last two years reading and writing my ass off about anthropology, and I suppose I felt like I needed an outlet to continue that. So I thought I’d give blogging a try.

I began posting about random topics in anthropology, but I was also in the midst of looking for gainful employment at the tail end of the 2008 recession. One of my first posts was about the challenges of finding a job. My blog became a place for me to reflect on my experience with the ups and downs. These themes - anthropological observations and career experiences - are threads that remain present today. 

Soon after starting my career, I found myself thinking a lot about what it means to practice anthropology outside of academia. The transition from school to work was a shock to my identity that took a long time to adjust to and feel comfortable with. Again, I used my blog to process this, writing about things like my struggle with reconciling my anti-capitalist values with working in corporate settings. 

My focus has been the working world, and I noticed that others took interest in what I had to say. Eventually I did a series of interviews with 21 people about how they practice anthropology in their jobs. There’s also a lot of practical information on things like conducting research, team collaboration, job interviewing, and links to various webinars and podcasts I’ve done.

What’s your process for capturing ideas to write about?

I have a million ideas jotted down on a list, but I rarely revisit the list because I’m more of a spur of the moment writer, and the list is in my subconscious anyway. I’m constantly doing and learning new things, so I write when an idea strikes me at my core. Ideas often come from exchanges I have online with other professionals and discussions with my coaching clients.

In keeping with the anthropological origins of the blog, I still like to talk about culture and society. When the pandemic started, people were posting all these funny memes, so I wrote about the viral nature of memes and their role as a dark comedy coping mechanism for COVID-19, while also wondering, are these funny even though we’re talking about a deadly virus?

Occasionally I will post about something that is highly personal. In 2017, after my mom died, I wrote about feeling bewildered at her non-existence and my inability to truly know if she had gone somewhere else, or had simply just stopped existing, full stop. As a researcher, I needed evidence, but I had to come to terms that this was not possible. 

My blog has become more personal over time and I’m comfortable talking about pretty much anything on the internet. I have future plans to write about some personal experiences that fit into larger social conversations around #MeToo. I am choosing to wait until my dad dies, otherwise it will be upsetting to him (he does get my blog updates, after all).  

When you look back at 10 years of writing and thinking, what do you notice?

My writing has always been a reflection of my career journey and mindset, which have evolved over time, with various pivots and dimensions. I’ve gone from anthropology graduate to researcher to consultant to coach (the last of which I didn’t foresee). My blog has come full circle in the sense that I’m now helping people with the career challenges I’ve been writing about all this time. I have a lot to share when guiding people because I’ve had to figure a lot of shit out on my own, and now I’m helping people figure out theirs. 

How has your writing changed over the years?

Naturally, my writing has significantly improved. It doesn’t take me an entire day to bang out a post, and I don’t get as into the weeds as I used to. I’ve also gotten better at knowing when something is good enough to hit the publish button, but because people rely on me for helpful information, I occasionally get stuck in the mindset of wanting to do A+ work. I try to remind myself to strive for B+ work, because that’s someone else’s A+ work. Mostly importantly though, I want to convey my thoughts with authenticity and humor and weirdness. 

What have been some posts that you were really excited about? 

I feel very strongly about the importance of ethics in design and technology. Last summer, I published my personal code of ethics and put it under a Creative Commons license so other people can use it. Last week, I wrote an in-depth post about getting into user experience research, and contrary to what I said above, I went back and revised it numerous times, even after I published it! LinkedIn is my professional platform of choice, and I promote everything there, so it’s getting a lot of eyeballs. I would wager that it will be the top most viewed post on my blog by the end of the year. 

If you could talk to yourself as a new blogger based on what you know now, what would you tell her?

There are a few embarrassing posts I’ve deleted, but I wouldn’t change anything about my process and how I spent my time, from the topics I chose to the lengthy diatribes and the extensive, obsessive editing. It’s all been a process of learning and improving. Just go with your gut, practice, seek feedback, and share it publicly so others can find it.