Find your writing “why”

Psst. I haven’t published in this space in a long time, but I do send weekly newsletters here. Below is this week’s newsletter. If you want more of this straight to your inbox, sign up to get WTH Weekly every Sunday.

When I made a career change and launched into a full-time, non-writing job seven weeks ago, my mother, a writer, said that this would be a defining moment for my writing life. Whether I make the time for it now would likely dictate whether I continue showing up years from now—and continue to be a writer. Gulp. Dose of reality. (Why is my mother literally
always right? It’s maddening. Love you, mom.)

This unsolicited advice didn’t come from nowhere. My mother knows me well. She knows my tendency to procrastinate and let my soul-sustaining habits—like writing and exercising—fall by the wayside when the rest of life feels all-consuming. So then I did solicit her advice on finding the time and motivation for writing, even though I knew exactly what it would be. “Ass in chair,” was her Anne Lamott-esque response.

My mother walks her talk. Her years-long routine of 5 a.m. writing sessions before heading off to work while raising three daughters still has me in awe. If she can do all that, certainly there’s no excuse for me.

Like me, many of you are not full-time writers. Or for some of you who are, what you write at work doesn’t elicit the same passion that your at-home writing does. To varying degrees we likely all experience stretches of productivity, but periods of inactivity can creep up fast and lead to major guilt feels. But guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

Guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

At work, one of the owners gave a class and spoke about the importance of finding your “big why”—the thing that motivates you to show up and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. The same can be applied to our writing. What keeps you coming back? If you struggle to stick with writing, you’re gonna have to get more specific than “I need to.” What, specifically, are you doing it for? What’s the desired outcome of a day’s or year’s worth of writing?

It helps, too, to have your own writing metric to strive for and attach to your big why. One that’s ambitious but realistic and that suits your definition of a successful writing week, not someone else’s. Many published authors insist that you must write every day, and while that would be ideal, I don’t believe it’s realistic or helpful to impose that standard on every writer. Instead, your metric could be a page count or number of writing hours per week. Whatever works. That part you’ll have to figure out, possibly through trial and error.

Author Karen Russell said it well in this interview:

“I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story?”

Many of us have big goals like, say, to write a novel. Big goals are fine, but to be successful and ensure you’re going to make the time to write—especially on those crappy days when you don’t feel like it—you have to break the big goal down by months, weeks, and possibly days. Think of National Novel Writing Month: The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month, or 1,667 words per day. Without breaking down that large goal into smaller chunks, do you think so many people would actually “win” at NaNoWriMo?

Whether you write daily or not, revisit your big why daily. Meditate on it, write it on a piece of paper and stick it on your bathroom mirror, say it out loud.

Then lose the guilt. Make the time. And write.

Raise your voice.

Raise your voice

flickr/creative commons

We live in a world where a woman is the Democratic presidential nominee and a world where another woman’s rapist will spend less than three months in jail. I don’t know how to reconcile these things. But it’s all I’ve thought about this week.

Ten years ago, when I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone my age who called themselves a feminist. Today, my sisters proudly identify as feminists; the movement has become mainstream. Yet for all our progress, we are constantly reminded of just how far we have to go. Lest anyone think women are treated as men’s equals, we need only look to the sexist comments about Hillary Clinton, or worse, one judge’s prioritizing a violent rapist’s future over a woman’s very right to safely walk this earth.

The Stanford rape story is a painful reinforcement of many unfortunate truths, but if there’s any glimmer of a silver lining in all of this, it’s also a reminder to women and writers everywhere that their voices do matter. Your words can make a lasting, indelible impact. It’s my deepest hope that the Stanford rape victim takes some comfort in knowing that her powerful words to her attacker in court have reached, enlightened, and helped people far and wide. By retelling her life’s most horrific moments and refusing to gloss over or apologize for the uncomfortable parts (as well as any great memoirist), she reinforced her agency and spoke on behalf of so many other women afraid or unable to do the same.

Fellow writers, women, humans: Use your voices. Empower others.


This post was originally published in WTH Weekly. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought it’d be appropriate to write about a book I read recently by a champion of women’s rights: Gloria Steinem.

My Life on the Road is an interesting title for a book by an author who doesn’t even have a driver’s license, yet Steinem gets around more than most people.

As someone who has not yet read Steinem’s other books, including the famous Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (it’s on my list!), I worried I might not be able to appreciate Steinem’s memoir as much as her devoted followers and readers. But if anything, My Life on the Road is the perfect introduction to Steinem’s work and a book that, after reading, made me count myself as one of her followers.

Steinem was in the news last month for her answer to Bill Maher’s question of why she thought so many young women support Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton. In what seemed like an off-the-cuff response, she said, “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’” Predictably, young women weren’t having that, and many called Steinem out for it. (She later apologized, adding that she had been misinterpreted.)

While it’s important to hold public figures accountable (and I certainly disagree with Steinem’s comment), I was amazed at how seething some of the backlash was. This was a woman who not only cofounded Ms. magazine, but the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Action Alliance, the Women’s Media Center, Voters for Choice, Choice USA and more. She was arrested while protesting the South African apartheid, created the Women and AIDS Fund, and testified on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. So. Her heart is clearly in the right place.

Gloria Steinem


But back to the book: This memoir was not the result of a woman nearing 80, enjoying her retirement and being convinced to write a fluffy life story that would no doubt sell. My Life on the Road is rich and detailed in its description of not just Steinem’s history, but recent U.S. history as well, and politics in particular. Steinem gives just enough context of the social and political landscape of her early activist years that a younger reader or anyone new to feminism could appreciate the significance of Steinem’s—and other women’s—experiences. Her stories, of course, span decades and continents, and I was amazed by Steinem’s memory, or meticulous note-taking over the years, or both.

My Life on the Road isn’t just a book about feminism or activism, though it’s very much those things, too—it’s a book about the human spirit, serendipity, the importance of listening, the meaning of home, and friendship. While she jokes that a couple of events likely aged her, Steinem’s nomadic lifestyle has clearly kept her youthful. Now 81, she’s as sharp as ever.

A few excerpts from the book:

“No wonder studies show that women’s intellectual self-esteem tends to go down as years of education go up. We have been studying our own absence. I say this as a reminder that campuses not only help create social justice movements, they need them.”

“Reproductive freedom means what it says and also protects the right to have a child. A woman can’t be forced into an abortion, just as she can’t be forced out of childbirth by sterilization or anything else: the women’s movement is as devoted to the latter as the former—including the economic ability to support a child.”

“…It was okay for two generations of Bush sons to inherit power from a political patriarchy even if they spent no time in the White House, but not okay for one Clinton wife to claim experience and inherit power from a husband whose full political partner she had been for twenty years. I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like—well, young women.”

“All my years of campaigning have given me one clear message: Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one.”
 Have you read My Life on the Road or Steinem’s other books? What did you think?

Wrapping up #ResolveToWrite: How was your month?

#ResolveToWrite: write on your own terms

Welcome back! How did your writing go in February?

To those of you who participated in #ResolveToWrite, it was really cool to see how the prompts inspired you to do some freewriting or incorporate the theme into something you were already working on. I loved seeing snapshots of your writing lives and processes! But regardless of whether or how much you participated, I hope the message of #ResolveToWrite resonated and inspired you to stay on track with your writing goals.

For me, there were highs and lows just like any other month, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t write every day. But having this challenge in the back of my mind was a constant reminder to be working on something, no matter what it leads to. And it worked—I ended up publishing on one of my favorite women-powered sites and am working on a pitch for a more journalistic story to keep the momentum going. It’s a relief to be reminded that despite some disappointments and setbacks over the past few months, I have not, in fact, lost my ability to write something out of passion. Funny how creativity begets creativity.

Keeping up with our creative writing will always be difficult as long as we have jobs, families and lives, but it will always be worth it. Which is why even though the #ResolveToWrite challenge has officially ended, I want to keep the spirit going. While you are always free to use the writing prompts to start a 30-day challenge of your own, not everyone needs that kind of structure. Instead, use the #ResolveToWrite message to make the commitment or set the goal that fit your needs, whether it’s writing every day, telling the story that scares you, or pitching 12 stories a year.

As we settle into March, I #ResolveToWrite through the self-doubt and other mental blocks to give my writing a chance to grow. I resolve to let go of the guilt that comes with not writing, too—because guilt serves no purpose in fostering a creative life.

Are you with me? Here are a few sample resolutions you can tweet just by clicking them. (Or tweet one of your own!)

Tweet: This month, I #ResolveToWrite every day, no matter what.
Tweet: This month, I #ResolveToWrite what I want to write—not what I think I should.
Tweet: This month, I #ResolveToWrite without guilt, without fear, and without expectations.

#ResolveToWrite: A month-long challenge to keep 2016 on track

It’s already February. How’s that writing project going?

That’s right guys, we’re now in the second month of 2016. (Is anyone else still writing “2015” in their notes and furiously scratching it out every time?)

There’s a decent chance that these past few weeks have gone by in a blink of an eye for many of us who have been struggling with slow progress, stagnant attempts or missed goals in our writing—not the start of a new year most of us envision. This is totally normal, but frustrating.

Luckily, there are still 11 whole months left in 2016 to get back on track. I thought February 1st seemed like an apt time to come up with a writing challenge. So behold! Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to complete these 29 writing prompts for each day in February. (Turns out 2016 is a leap year—consider it a bonus.)

#ResolveToWrite: A February Challenge

The purpose & who it’s for

The goal is simple: My hope for you and me both is that we write something every day for a month—even if, some days, there’s only time for 15 minutes. I also want you to feel inspired and playful. Even though this is a writing challenge, it should be fun—not a chore!

I had so much fun coming up with unexpected, thought-provoking prompts that writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry alike would enjoy interpreting these prompts however they see fit.

How to participate

Starting today, dedicate at least a few minutes every day for a month to writing something—a blog post, a short story, a stream-of-consciousness diary entry, a microblog on Instagram, whatever. Document your experience, progress and anything you publish online using the hashtag #ResolveToWrite. (Tweet about it now.)

This challenge is not about arbitrary rules that don’t apply to your writing goals. So if you’re working on a novel and want to focus on that, you don’t have to use every single writing prompt. (Though you may find some of the prompts will spark inspiration for a scene, conversation or turn of events.) And if you join in late, no worries. You can start this challenge any time. As long as you use the #ResolveToWrite hashtag, I’ll be there cheering you on.

Perks if you join in!

If you join in during the first two days using the hashtag #ResolveToWrite, I’ll feature you and any work you’d like to promote in WTH Weekly, the newsletter I send out every Saturday. (You must also be subscribed to the newsletter—after all, you’ll want to be able to see it and forward it to your biggest fan!)

And if you participate at all during the month using #ResolveToWrite and are subscribed to WTH Weekly, you’ll be eligible to win this “Write Like a Motherfucker” mug from The Rumpus. (The Rumpus is not sponsoring this giveaway—I just thought the theme and the heart-shaped design were too perfect for a February writing challenge!) All you have to do is fill in your info using the Raffelcopter widget below to verify. See below for entry details.

#ResolveToWrite giveaway

photo and mug from

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Does that sound like fun or what?! I’m looking forward to doing the prompts along with you and will be tweeting updates from my personal account.

If you’re on board, sign up for the newsletter here, send a tweet (here’s a pre-written tweet for you), enter using the Rafflecopter widget above, then get to work! Let’s make the shortest month of the year count. Happy writing!