Writer Chats, Part VI: Being a Writer

We’re so happy to be bringing you a sixth installment in our Writer Chats series, thanks to the lovely Erin Burke of Confessions of a Picky Eater. There’s so much in what she writes here that I relate to—from having an inspiring grandma to sensing an inner need to write. We hope you do, too.

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I inherited much of my love of reading and writing from my grandmother. I always remember our summer visits to her house and how, as I fell asleep on the couch in the living room, her bedroom light would remain on, a sliver of yellow underneath her door, as she read through the piles of books on her nightstand. When she died my mother inherited her cedar chest, packed full of family photographs and quilts and old letters. And underneath all of that treasure there were spiral notebooks, filled with stories my grandmother had written that we had never known about.

I have written in a journal almost every night since I was in seventh grade. There is a whole box of them under my bed, and sometimes when I have nightmares about house fires, my books of words are the the things that I am afraid of losing (those, and my piano). And all those years of writing, all those years of collecting stories and memories of joy and anger and sadness have taught me that writing is how I process life.

I have always been full of stories, writing messy paragraphs in my first-grade handwriting and typing out the beginnings to novels as soon as I had my very own computer. There are files and files of shorts stories and novel drafts on my computer, some horrible, some decent, some, I would dare say, good.

But I have always been hesitant to call myself I writer. It feels like a title that should be earned for some reason, like I don’t deserve the word until I can make money or earn recognition from it. This isn’t necessarily a healthy view on the word, but it puts pressure on a lot of us writers I think. It’s hard not to feel like we need to be recognized by others as writers before we can recognize ourselves as such.

Last month I decided to take a break from writing. I had stretched myself too thin with blogging. I could feel the way the words I wrote lacked focus. I put some things out into the world hoping they might be noticed by the writing-powers-that-be only to have them pushed back to me.

So I stopped. I just stopped. Besides short sentences in my journal, I stopped writing almost completely. I took a break from blogging. I let Word documents sit empty. I sketched out writing ideas on index cards but never actually put words to the paper.

And I could feel the difference it made. I could feel the way the blank page called me back, and the way my lack of writing had me feeling all out of sorts. I felt relief at not forcing words that didn’t want to come, but at the same time I felt dry without the words there.

And I remembered the lesson I learned so many years ago, when I would write pages and pages in my journal to make myself feel better and understand life: I need these words to live. I need to write in order to understand. I need to come back to the blank page again and again and create, for better or for worse, because this is what lets me breathe freely in the world, whether anyone else reads my words or not.

So I’ve come back more focused. I’ve taken the pressure off myself and stopped the projects that were stressing me. I’ve gone back to the basics, the things that made me fall in love with writing in the first place, like reading really good stories. And I’ve pulled out a spiral notebook and started writing my own stories again, strictly for fun. They may not see the light of day anytime soon, but in the future perhaps someone will find them buried in a box in the attic and know who I was: a writer.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Erin for sharing her perspective here! We’re so grateful for the voices that have contributed to this series already, and we’d love to hear from you, too.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Writer Chats, Part VI: Being a Writer”

  1. This is so good, Erin! I particularly loved the way you described “the way the blank page called me back”–I had such a visceral reaction to those words, knowing the exact same feeling. Thank you for sharing here (and thank you to Shanna for opening this space).

  2. Thanks Lindsey. It really is amazing how when I sit in front of a blank page and start writing out words (especially when I’ve been away for awhile) I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. It’s so nice to know other people feel the same way.

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