22 Jun Reflections On My Writing Odyssey: Essential Takeaways From Publishing Over 500 Stories Online
I NEVER CONSIDERED myself a writer. It still humbles and astounds me when I tell people this is what I love to do. Ever since I started taking this endeavor seriously six years ago, writing has been the thing that, no matter what else is going on, grounds me in my heart and soul.
That’s because there are no rules in writing; no right or wrong. Only solace, expression, perseverance and love. That’s what this means to me.
I recently published my 500th piece of writing online. I’m proud of that, not because of the tribe I’ve garnered (if you’re reading this you a real one) nor the money I’ve made (would have given up long ago if I was in it for that!).
I began writing to explore my curiosities and recognize who I am on a deeper level.
I studied journalism in college, yet I felt like an outcast in my major. I was afraid of vulnerability, of embarrassment, of disappointment.
Yet I stuck with it (thanks mom) and when I graduated, I began writing online to ask the question which compels countless graduates: what the hell do I do with my life?
I started writing on my newfound interests and concerns, and the floodgates serendipitously erupted. By cultivating a writing practice and sticking to it, I’ve formed an identity that feels sincere, vital, solid.
These are my essential takeaways from the first six years of my writing odyssey. If you’re a human being who just wants to know yourself in a more profound way, I hope these insights help get you moving.
Why did I start sharing my thoughts with the world nearly six years ago?
I needed to examine my emotions, a challenging feat when within the confines of our mercurial inner world.
So I put them out there and what I found is that I’m not alone in what I feel. None of us are. We’re all going through, have gone through, or will go through something.
The things I share, perhaps the most vulnerable and integral to who I am, resonate the deepest.
If we want to share, we’re doing the world a disservice by keeping our joy, our pain, our confusion or our love to ourselves.
“I have nothing to offer anybody,” said the writer Jack Kerouac, “except my own confusion.”
The world needs what you have to give. Even if you think it isn’t pretty, it is damn well worthy.
Action Leads To Inspiration
Inspiration doesn’t lead to action — action leads to inspiration. There are those midnight revelations where I wake in a fervor and jot down a few lines or even an entire story.
But more often than not I’ll have a vague idea of the concept I want to delve into. Perhaps nothing but a single word.
The idea solidifies when I sit down, and begin.
As I write, concepts connect like stars in a constellation. It may take days, yet the muse notices our effort.
She nods approvingly and says, here young man, you’ve put your ass in the seat, so later today when you look into that flower or bowl of miso soup, this story will blossom. You’re welcome.
Action leads to inspiration, not the other way around, no matter what it is we’re doing.
Inspiration Comes From Everywhere
Inspiration comes from literally everywhere: our job, our day-to-day lives, the things we read and watch and eat and feel and do.
Keep your attention attuned to what’s happening around you. Write about what you feel as you sit there on the train, or write a few lines about what you imagine those two people are feeling and not saying.
If you want a goldmine of inspiration, read. Not just what you think you’re supposed to read; read whatever you want. Read what excites you.
Reading fantasy and science fiction have given me just as many insights as non-fiction.
I’m musing on the author’s thoughts, the writer’s genius; it’s rocking me to my core.
Take notes. When I come across a line I like, I dog ear the page.
I’m always frustrated with myself when I pass up on saving a quote because in the moment I didn’t think I’d use it. If something makes you pause and think, highlight it.
Takes notes: on books, on life, on anything at all. You never know when you’ll need ‘em.
Write About How You Feel
The blank page stares back; you want that first word to be the gale of wind which will rush through your story like a force of nature.
Take the pressure off.
How do you feel in this moment?
Get the words bangin’ around in your noggin’ on the page. They’ll likely be cut in the finished piece or placed elsewhere, anyway.
Get your fingers moving. As if journaling or talking to a friend, just unload. Don’t worry about how it sounds or about grammar or structure; you just need the initial clay to mold.
Explore On the Page
One of my heroes is Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century thinker, philosopher, diplomat. Yet, if asked, Montaigne might refer to himself more modestly.
Stefan Zweig writes in Montaigne, one of my favorite biographies:
He does not exude the exactitude of the scholar, the originality of the writer, the sublime diction of the poet. He sees himself as a refleschisseur, one who reflects, ponders. Not a writer, he does not take too seriously what he scribbles down.
Montaigne is considered the father of the modern essay. When we think of the essay, what likely comes to mind is a sloppy five paragraph argument on the themes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written by our clueless 7th-grade self.
Just me? Ah.
To assay means to attempt, to try, to examine, and Montaigne is credited as being one of the first writers to pen piece after piece on a devastatingly wide range of subjects for no other reason than to understand.
He didn’t write to prove — he wrote for an adventure.
Writing’s An Adventure
When you write you’re on an adventure, navigating the high seas of your inner environment, the far-reaching corners of your personal galaxy, the deepest depths of self.
A fantastic reason to write is to solve a problem. There’s no better place to flesh out your thoughts than the blank page.
You don’t want to have the answer when you begin.
Authors don’t have the endgame in mind when they begin, either.
They keep writing because they want to know what happens next. And that is why we keep reading.
If you could feel that the author is just as much trying to figure out what happens next as you, it makes for a compelling story. That’s an adventure to read, and an adventure to write.
Forget Being Original
I used to worry that my ideas weren’t original, and sometimes I wonder if I’m just saying the same things over and over, which I probably am.
Contemporary author Elizabeth Gilbert changed my perspective. She writes in her recent book Big Magic:
When Picasso saw the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux, he reportedly said, 'We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years' - which is probably true, but so what? So what if we repeat the same themes? So what if we circle around the same ideas, again and again, generation after generation? So what if every new generation feels the same urges and asks the same questions that humans have been feeling and asking for years? We're all related, after all, so there's going to be some repetition of creative instinct. Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours.
Nobody has been through your experiences and sees the world as you do. Say what you want to say.
Don’t Regret Never Trying
Perhaps you created something that you’re proud of.
Still, you might be afraid to post it. It’s scary putting something out into the world to be flippantly looked at by perfect strangers.
In reality, it does not matter whatsoever.
You’ve done your job. You made something. This is for you, after all. If it moves somebody else too, that’s wonderful. But we mustn’t base our worth on how our efforts are received.
The 19th-century philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in his Journals:
Happy is he who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale - who writes always to the unknown friend.
Put your work out there again and again, and maybe in a day or in twenty years you’ll get some sort of recognition. But that’s not the point, for the glory doesn’t last nor does the sting of failure. The only way we fail is by never trying.
“For me success is not a public thing,” said the writer Toni Morrison. “It’s a private thing. It’s when you have fewer and fewer regrets.”
Don’t look back and wish you took your shot. It’s all just practice, anyway.
It’s All Practice, Anyway
Every few articles I post will have a typo; the sound of a video will be less than ideal.
But it’s all just practice!
We think people are so critical, but nobody’s thinking about us in the first place. We’re all too busy thinking about ourselves. The things we make, the shots we take, everything we produce — it’s all just practice.
Have fun with it.
“A paradoxical thing about people who consistently choose a high level activity is their efforts have a rough edged half-assed quality,” says educator, writer and entrepreneur Tiago Forte, “because polishing things to perfection is a low leverage activity.”
That doesn’t mean pump out low-quality work. It means give your best, focus on the details, pour your heart out and get your thing as good as you can make it. Then let that baby fly.
We hold on to our project like a little bird until it’s without a doubt ready to fly the coop. That baby bird will learn a great deal more out in the world than in your hands.
Let it fly and move on.
Real Artists Ship
Apple founder Steve Jobs is famous for saying: “Real artists ship.”
To ship is to publish, to hang the art, to send the letter, to ask the question, to do anything at all that gets you out of your head and into the world.
To ship means you’re on the hook, as writer Seth Godin would say. When you’re on the hook, potential resounds.
Possibilities are made manifest. People might pass your art and see your work, and it may rock them to their core or do nothing at all.
But you shipped the work.
And in that trying, you became a truer version of you.
We learn from shipping again and again, as shipping requires an abundance mentality. The more we ship the greater the room for light to enter the cracks of our innermost being and make them shine.
To ship is to live; to courageously live.