From time to time, people email me to ask for advice from a writer.
(Inevitably, I always think I ought to go find them one.) True, I work as a writer. I have a degree as a writer. I like writing sentences more than almost any other job I’ve known. But I don’t feel like a writer. And these people who write to me, who ask for the way to go freelance or for tips on getting work, they want to feel like they’re writers. They want paychecks to prove that their families were wrong. They want job titles that tell the world, “Look, she did it!” They want someone to read their work and say, “Wow!” and “You’re amazing!” and “Well done!” They want to feel like they’ve made it, like they’re okay. I know they want these things because I want these things. We all want these things, especially those of us who pursue writing work, but probably not only those of us who pursue writing work. I mean, I imagine you might doubt yourself if you’re a business owner or a beekeeper or a crossing guard, too, I don’t know. But the thing is, no one can make you feel like you’ve made it. The minute they do, look out, new doubts come. So instead of chasing the ever elusive sense of arrival, take the best advice I can give you: Keep writing instead.
Because listen, if there’s anything I know about writing, this is the thing I know about writing: You have to write. Writing is about writing. It’s not about talking about writing or dreaming about writing. It’s about sitting down to your computer and stringing together thoughts, one by one by one. When your writer friend gets the Job Title, you write. When you are passed over for an award, you write. When you read an article so good, you want to give up your pen altogether, you write. When you write something you’re finally proud of and you want the world to see it, you write again.
If you want to write, you write.
If you want to feel like a writer, well, you keep writing until the feelings come.
You write and you write, and when you finish something, you move on. You could get stuck; you could want to quit; you could beat yourself up for the mistakes in that last piece you turned in. But you don’t—you keep writing (and you keep writing and you keep writing), instead.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.
20 thoughts on “Writer Chats, Part I: Keep Writing Instead”
Advice I needed to hear on this Sunday morning, Shanna.
A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast and Emily Freeman was talking about the same thing. She said something like, other people who have chosen other career paths don’t question themselves the way that writers do. Doctors aren’t afraid to call themselves doctors, but they also have a piece of paper that says they can be called a doctor. Writers don’t get certificates or credentials to put behind our names — maybe that’s why we’re all so hesitant, I don’t know.
Excited to read more of this series!
That’s an interesting point, Laken. I wonder if, perhaps as much as we want to feel like writers, we also want to feel like *good* writers —if so, that is probably something people relate to in any career. What’s more, the idea of being a “good” something is such an interesting concept, so open to interpretation and opinion. Good food for thought!
Many years ago I read, Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Something you wrote today reminding me of this. I had to open the book once again and re read…
“Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would die if it were denied you write. This above all-ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”
Love and appreciate your thoughts on writing as well:)
Erin, I’ve heard so many good things about Rainer Maria Rilke. I like this quote.
Such wisdom, Shanna, thank you so much. In doubt, write. It’s so much harder than it sounds, isn’t it? And so easy at the same time. I ought to write about that 😉 I have struggled to write for years and starting blogging is what got me unblocked and finally writing on a regular basis in a way that I enjoy and is not so torturous, so thankful for that. I always have so many doubts, which you describe with such insight and honesty here, but at least, I’m writing…
You’re so right, Helene. The discipline of blogging is a powerful weapon against the doubts, if only because it keeps you writing.
I went to a lecture by a very successful novelist a few months ago and she said that the one piece of advice that she gave to hopeful writers was that there’s never a good time to start writing; you just have to start writing and not stop. I’m a great one for dreaming about writing rather than just writing but I’m trying to take that advice.
On a post-it on my office desk is the quote by Nicole Gulotta of Eat this Poem (i know you already know her cos I found her site through yours).
the quote summarizes what you just wrote in your post –
“if you are a writer, you must write”.
I look at it every time I feel like I’ve run out of ideas; or when it seems blogging is just too much work to do without any remuneration except for the joy I get out of it. And it reminds me, just like you so aptly mentioned, that we have to keep on writing, during good times or bad, happy or sad.
Because this is what makes us writers. we write. whether on notebooks, on journals, draft posts in our heads, word documents, or scribbles in a notepad. This is what we have to do. So thanks for your reminder!
Felicia, Nicole never ceases to inspire me. Do you already subscribe to her newsletter? So good. I love the quote you included from her here! Yes. Such a good idea to keep it by your desk!
This is a treat! And definitely words I need to hear. Is any other passion/profession so plagued by self-doubt? When I feel like I can’t write (or more like I’m too scared to write and disappoint myself), I read. Savoring good books while observing the mechanics of the writing is training ground (she tells herself).
I can’t wait for the rest of this series!
Joanna! The advice to read good writing as a way of encouraging yourself to write is so right. It deserves a post in itself here. (Just saying… should you find yourself wanting to write it…) : )
Wise, wise words, Shanna – and it’s so important to hear it. Writing is a lonesome activity, so there’s something really wonderful about hearing others reflect on their practice. Looking forward to more of this!
Very true, Jess. Thanks!
I love this post, and look forward to the series!
About a week ago, just before going to bed one night, I felt words burning in my head, and, bring pen to paper, wrote, “I have decided to become a writer. Or, perhaps, I have re-committed myself to an intention I set at age 7, in 2nd grade, when I certainly fancied myself a writer. The trouble is, at 26, how does one start?”
You have given me the simple (and yet challenging) answer: “If you want to write, you write.”
I love the image of you, in bed journaling, writing those words and thinking those thoughts. Rooting for you, Lindsey!
Shanna: Your words are simple and direct. There is NO other way to become a writer, than to purely write. And when one struggles over structure, point of view, or a dynamic headline, the words are what are left as we seek to share ourselves and our perspective. As a writer from ‘old school’, I have actually been “afraid of blogging”. I have explored, started a blog that is just sitting there without a search engine. Isn’t it strange to be fearful of extending one’s self to the new technology that comes to us, rather than we to it? To rethink the writing venue and resources is radical for yesterday’s writers. Today, writers have infinite avenues of potential opportunities just waiting for them. Case and point – Food Loves Writing, a lovely, tactful method of sharing and translating your heritage of cooking and kitchen exploration (of which I know of yours). As food loves writing, we love your approach and tasteful approach to writing, not just food. Thank you, Shanna, for your inspiration to young writers. And to the old school ‘kids’ who would knock on doors and hit the phones for a writing gig, may the ‘sun rise to meet you’ as the Irish blessing would say!
Thank you, Vicki! You’re so sweet. I’m so proud of you for being willing to jump on board with new technology—I know it’s a whole new world! If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. Love to you!
Hi Shanna – ‘If you want to write, you write’. I think you sum it up perfectly with that sentence.
It’s been 25 years since I first wondered about the possibility of being a writer but before any idea of publication, and for some years too, there was a love of words, of shaping them on the page, of finding the best way I knew how to make them speak back to me. I try and pass that passion on to students… start from loving what you do.
You were one of my first inspirations when I started my blog back in 2010: I adore the honesty that comes through your writing and that’s something I’ve tried to adhere to as well. And congratulations on your book too – really looking forward to reading it.
What a lovely comment — thank you so much! I’m honored you’ve ordered the book and can’t wait to get your copy out to you! Hope you enjoy. ; )