I want to dedicate this post on writing to my grandmother. She passed away on September 20, 2006. It’s been 11 years without her but there is never a day that I don’t remember her presence and how she told me first, before anyone else, that I would be a writer one day. She never let me doubt that and, in a world that is often too cynical, I am thankful for that belief. My grandmother– Dolores– is the woman on the left in this photograph. I write for her. Always.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for forever. Every time I sit down to write anything my mind goes blank. I think back on previous posts and expect something new and marvelous to appear out of thin air. As if the words magically formed sentences on their own and I was just a bystander.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, in every aspect of my life. If you don’t get this done today you never will. If you can’t come up with anything now, how do you ever expect to? If you don’t make the time for this and that and the other thing you will always be stuck. It’s a torturous, stressful, overwhelming cycle. And a lot of the time I give in. I step back from what I know I should be doing because I’m tired. I’m tired of the uncertainty. I’m tired of the doubt that creeps in when I open a new document and attempt to form words into concrete ideas. I’m tired of feeling unimpressionable. I spend so much of my energy on the thought that my words are inconsequential to the world around me. As if what I’m trying to express has been beaten to death and all I’m doing is adding to the repetition of the chain of the same thoughts the world has already heard.
So, I close the document and start a new tv show. I open Pinterest and drown my insecurities in motivational quotes that don’t encourage me enough to create a world full of characters that haunt my dreams because I’m too afraid. Afraid they’re not good enough. Afraid I will fall short and never know or understand how to shape them into their full potential. Afraid I will forever be the girl with dreams that never made them happen because her creativity only lasted a few pages. Afraid I will be stuck in a routine I hate because I was too doubtful. Too stubborn to give me a chance. A chance to prove that I can do more than stock shelves and tell people which TV brand is better.
I’ve been meaning to email you for awhile but I’ve also been avoiding it. Because I know there’s only so much you can say or do. I have to do the work. I have to believe in myself. I have to push myself. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English two years ago and I’ve yet to figure out what to do with it. The ultimate goal for quite awhile now has been to be an author. But in this day and age, you have to be making a steady income to live. And I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself but I’ve gotten into this awful habit of letting time pass by and saying I’ll figure it out tomorrow. I’m just worried I won’t ever figure it out. I’m turning 24 a week from today and I know everyone says I’m young and I have time but what happens when time runs out? When is it no longer acceptable that I have no career in sight?
Reading over those words out loud I started crying. Because I don’t know anything. I work 25-40hrs a week at a job that I hate because I need to be working and I’m too intimidated to apply anywhere else. I can feel my creative juices depleting and I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even know what I’m qualified to do.
First off, thank you for writing to me. Your words are brilliant and bold. I can see you’re caught. You’re stuck. You’re standing at the end of a sidewalk, ready to cross the road, but Fear is holding up a “Do Not Cross” sign and you are listening to it. Even with no threat of cars coming, you don’t want to move. You don’t want to cross. However, you are reaching the point we would all be lucky to reach someday- the point of realizing it will break your heart to never cross and see what is waiting on the other side.
Fear has a well-plotted agenda for you. It wants to keep you safe at all costs. It doesn’t want your heart to be broken. It doesn’t want your knees to get scraped. And, while I think Fear is noble for trying to stay on mission, what your Fear might not understand is how badly it will be the culprit of breaking your heart if it doesn’t move out of the way. Your Fear will likely be stubborn and it won’t move out of the way. You are going to have to push into, M. You are going to have to wrestle that Fear to the ground, let that Fear watch you as you cross the road. Fear may always be a part of the story but that doesn’t mean you need to give it a trophy or let it win. You can honor your fear’s existence but you don’t have to give it a rose ceremony.
I know your fear feels very original to you but I can promise you this: hundreds of us have this same fear. Thousands of us go to sleep at night wondering if all of this matters. If our words will ever count. If we will ever just write the book or create the blog. There are words trapped inside of a lot of us, begging to just get past the Fear that guards the door.
I felt just like you graduating from college. I stepped out into the world with my English degree and I thought I would make something of myself in New York City. New York City is an intoxicating city, especially for young dreamers. What I didn’t know, what I would soon learn, is that I was so incredibly small. My thoughts were small. My movements were small. I felt like I could easily be swallowed up by the city and no one would notice if I was gone. I felt forgettable. I thought, in those first few months after college, that it was a lie to ever think I was memorable. I was really just one person in a sea of other persons. So many of us looked so unhappy trying to push upstream.
But I woke up, M. I woke up and I got to work. I had a blog. This same blog you see today. It was really small at the time but I realized I could probably help one person. One person because five people. Five people turned into 400. The numbers grew but only because I kept coming back and choosing words over fear. I don’t show up for popularity, I show up because I believe words can change lives and do it more effectively than any other tool in this world.
I surrounded myself with good people, people who desired to see me win. I became a student of life and I started interviewing every person I could find who would give me five minutes of their time. I interviewed countless people, all from a cell phone in New York City, on how they got from point A to point B. I honored every reader who sent me an email. I thanked them and read their stories. I wrote for them, just as I am writing for you.
I kept blogging. I kept writing. I said “yes.” I figured out what I had to say and I kept figuring it out. I gave myself permission to mess up and make a fool of myself for the art of words. I wrote things I didn’t want to write. I did health articles for $50 a piece about topics I didn’t care about. I freelanced for free just to get a byline. I was there. If someone needed me at an event to tweet or write, I was there. The biggest advice I can give to you is just this: say yes to every chance to write and say thank you for everything. Say yes to that small blog. Say yes to that volunteer opportunity. Say yes to writing the nonprofit’s Christmas letter to their donors. Just say yes and say thank you. More doors will likely open.
People will stop telling you to go after your dreams. They will tell you to get practical. They will tell you to get the big paychecks. They will tell you to work to prove yourself. We get older and we stop talking about dreams as much. I don’t want you to go there, M. The world is full of cynics and we don’t need any more naysayers as this current time.
Yes, you need to work hard. No, you cannot expect things to just be handed to you. Yes, you are going to take on some jobs that you absolutely hate. I’ve been there. I worked the jobs. I remember working at a call center for As Seen On TV. I would spend the night shift taking phone call after phone call of complaints about people’s Aqua Globes and Ab Rockets. I listened to a man cry to me about how 80 boxes of tomato planters were sitting on his front porch in brown boxes because the computer-automated voice messed up the order. In the moments where the phone wasn’t ringing, I would scribble stories down on pieces of blank paper. I would not sit in that little cube and wonder about the stories I could write one day, I just started writing them.
Do I have any of those scribbled stories today? No. I would probably look back on them and deem them useless but that’s not the point. The point is this: you need to be writing. Good words. Bad words. Words you never want to see again. Write. Write to figure out who you are. Write to figure if you have a voice and what that voice has to say. Write dumb, little stories. Write poems. I was so engraged with the call center I was working at that I thought I would write a tell-all book about the corruption of the “products sold on TV” industry. That idea was short-lived but it fueled me to start writing. In that way, it served its purpose.
The life of a writer doesn’t just appear one day like an Amazon package showing up at the door. You are going to have to build that life and you cannot build it out of productivity applications or followers on platform. The life of a writer is built out of scrap papers and words, not entitlement. It’s a lie to think you can sit down and watch the words show up like mythical elves ready to be aligned on the page. You’ve got to be willing to say: screw the instant magic, I’m ready to work.
Most writers will be sure to tell you there isn’t real magic when you first sit down to start writing. There’s just you and a document or you with a notebook. You likely need to shower or change your clothes. There’s likely too much dry shampoo in your hair. The coffee is likely cold. The desire to walk away and go watch Netflix will dance around you like a temptress. You’ll feel the need to watch pointless Lifetime movies or go through all the seasons of Gilmore Girls for the second time. Rory and Lorelai won’t be there with you to bury your writer dreams if you keep choosing Netflix over your craft. It won’t be their fault at the end of the day if you don’t sit down and start to write. That’s on you, babe. That’s on you.
I’m sorry if I seem harsh. It’s not my intention. I just get into fierce, no-nonsense Mama-bear mode when it comes to people who know they have a voice. I want you to figure out all you have to offer to the world while you’re here. It breaks my heart to think we could go our whole lives without figuring out what we have to say.
M, there will be magic. It won’t strike during the first five minutes. It usually doesn’t make an appearance until late in the game. Slow magic. But there is a magic that any writer could tell you about. We like to say we are good with words but this kind of magic and the description of it fails us. All I can say is that the magic of writing fills your lungs and gives you purpose. It makes you feel like your hands are on fire, like you need to take a few laps. It will make you feel untouchable and invincible. It will fill your heart in a way people, places, exotic dishes, and good music never could. It’ll feel like coming home and being completely full, all at once.
I want this for you, girl, but I have to be straight with you: the world can never give it to you. The culture can’t promise you such a thing. Followers who want to be like you can never give you this feeling. You have to sit down, in all your spare moments, and you need to start writing. And I promise you something is going to happen. You are going to learn about yourself. You will feel so damn proud at certain points. But it won’t be instant and it won’t happen overnight.
The answer is small. Start small. Dig deep. Sit down. Start to write. Say yes. Go.
It’s in you already.
tying you closer than most,
THE YEAR OF THE BOOK
It’s that time of year again!
I’ll be offering my book writing course this November and I would love to see you there. I only offer this course once a year so grab your seat this year of wait for doors to open again in November 2018.
After writing two books (and working on two more), I am so ready to teach this course with new fire and new instruction. I love to talk about the writing process and I especially love coaching people to create works of 20,000 words or more.
This 3-hour course is for the ones who know they have a book they need to write. Whether it’s a fully cooked idea or just the start of an outline, this course will help you map it out, create a discipline of writing, and learn the steps it takes to move a book forward in the publishing world. You can grab your EarlyBird seat here. Prices for the course will go up at the beginning of October.
If you have any questions or want to ask me about the course, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you shortly!