Writer’s Block

Anne Lamott describes writer’s block perfectly:

There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock. Or you look at the notes you’ve scribbled recently on yellow legal pads or index cards, and they look like something Richard Speck jotted down the other night. And at the same time, as it turns out, you happen to know that your closest writing friend is on a roll, has been turning out stories and screenplays and children’s books and even most of a novel like he or she is some crazy pot-holder factory, pot holders pouring out the windows because there is simply not enough room inside for such glorious productivity.

She then provides some advice for coping when it feels like you have nothing worthwhile to say:

All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and drams of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning…Everything we need in order to tell our stories in a reasonable and exciting way already exists in each of us. Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed. There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid of the Dr. Seuss creature in the cellar, arranging and stitching things together. When this being is ready to hand things up to you..you will be entrusted with it.

Filling up the Emptiness

I worry that Jesus drinks himself to sleep when he hears me talk like this. But about a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me.

We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time….I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. People used to tell me I dressed like John Goodman. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, “Do you think it makes my hips look too big?” and she said to me slowly, “Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.”

And I don’t think you have that kind of time either. I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to [your writing] with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water—just as writing is also about dealing with the emptiness. – Anne Lamott

I love how she uses personal anecdotes to illustrate broad concepts. I believe that works as a great structure for a blog post.

Bird by Bird is one of those books that I want to keep drinking in forever. I wish my cup would never run dry, so I could continually quench my everlasting thirst for wisdom and beauty.

Clearing the Smog

The process of writing has transformed the most mundane parts of my life.

Now, when I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to resent the people ahead of me in line whose carts are stuffed full of “food” not fit for any living being, and the cashier who’s taking 10 times longer than necessary to ring up said garbage. Instead of angrily brooding over all the more productive ways I could be spending those 20 minutes, I can detach from the scene and notice the details—why does the grumpy cashier wear so much purple eyeshadow? Why does she address everyone as “sweetheart”? Does she truly mean it as a term of endearment, or is it a habit she formed to imitate her mother? Perhaps, like the eyeshadow, the word brings some specks of joy into her drab day. Who did she dream of becoming before she surrendered her life and become a grocery store cashier? She probably had a hard childhood.

I find myself lost in the narrative in my head, consumed by my imagination. This new perspective makes life so much more pleasant.

Anne Lamott says it well:

So much of writing is about sitting down and doing it every day, and so much of it is about getting into the custom of taking in everything that comes along, seeing it all as grist for the mill. This can be a very comforting habit, like biting your nails. Instead of being scared all the time, you detach, watch what goes on, and consider it creatively….You take in all you can, as a child would, without the atmospheric smog of grown-up vision.


Today in my reading Anne Lamott explained how she came to terms with her jealousy of more successful writers:

I started to write about my envy. I got to look in some cold dark corners, see what was there, shine a little light on what we all have in common. Soetimes this human stuff is slimy and pathetic—jealousy especially so—but better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned. 

My Next Personal Challenge

Today I am embarking on a new personal development project which I will continue until the end of the month. It will consist of the following:

1. Every day, I will spend at least half an hour reading a book about writing or creativity. I will start with the remainder of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (which I highly recommend if you’ve ever struggled with creative endeavors). I have a few ideas for books that I’ll move on to once I finish that, but I always welcome your recommendations if you can accompany them with compelling reasons.

2. I will publish something on my blog every day. Unlike last time, however, these posts will not necessarily to consist of my own writing. They may contain something else, like a quote from my reading or a meaningful image.

3. Every Sunday, I will share something I have written on Facebook and other social platforms. It might be a previous post of mine that I have revised enough to deem it shareable, or it may showcase a new piece I have written.

This is the hard part for me. While I have largely overcome my fear of publishing my ramblings on a place on the Internet that is accessible to the entire planet, the thought of declaring to my hundreds of Facebook friends that my posts are worth reading greatly intimidates me. This is partly because much of what I have published so far is of mediocre quality (my last PDP required me to post my writing every single day for 30 days, leaving me little time for revision and polishing), but also because I’m afraid of the criticism and misunderstanding that may result from my diverse audience.

I believe that half of great writing is revision, so allowing myself the time to step back and take a fresh look at my work, along with the high standards I have for my Facebook posts, will push me to write material of higher quality.

4. I will write in my personal journal every day. I believe that it’s important to have a place to write that is only for yourself—a place where you can spill everything that’s on your heart without fear of judgment. Maria Popova of Brainpickings writes that journaling grants us “unfiltered access to the rough gems of our own minds, ordinarily dismissed by the self-censorship of ‘formal’ writing.” This daily ritual will help me to continue to reap the benefits I experienced from my last project of writing daily.

Through the process of journaling and allowing myself more time for revision, I’m hoping to take Anne Lamott’s advice about “Shitty First Drafts”:

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page.

Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

You won’t be able to hold me accountable for the last one, but for everything else, I appreciate your feedback.

Finally, I want to say thanks to TK Coleman and the whole Praxis crew for inspiring me to push myself out of my comfort zone.


One month ago, I committed myself to a Personal Development Project where I would have to publish a blog post every day for 30 days.

Today, I’m finished! And pretty darn happy about it.

When I first started, I was dreadfully scared. I had tried blogging before but was always paralyzed by my perfectionism and the fear of what people would think if I published something that wasn’t funny, insightful, original, and eloquent—all at the same time. This time, though, things were different. The accountability I gained from my mentor and from having posted about the challenge on Facebook gave me the motivation to push through the fear.

At the beginning, coming up with something to write about every day was surprisingly easy. I got into a nice groove where I would write every morning after my walk. It was a great way to start the day with something that made me feel accomplished. Later, when other priorities started to take precedence and I had to travel for work, I lost the habit, and writing became more difficult.

It was during those difficult times that I gained the most valuable insight: even when I think my well of inspiration has run dry, if I force myself to sit down and write and actually take the time to dig deeper, I will eventually hit water. It might be just a trickle of slimy groundwater, but at least it’s something, and then I can nurse it into a worthwhile post.

I also learned that life gets a lot more interesting when I have to constantly keep my ears peeled for ideas to write about.

All in all, I’m glad to have completed this challenge. I’ve come to enjoy the process of writing a lot more, and I believe it will be easier for me to post in the future. I do not, however, plan to continue blogging daily. I would rather take more time to polish my writing so that I can provide real value for my readers. Daily blogging is more of an exercise for the writer than anything else.

That said, I’m immensely grateful to the faithful few who have read, commented, and kept me accountable through this process.

I have an exciting new PDP planned for the month of November, so stay tuned!



When I was growing up, I had to pick strawberries in my father’s garden nearly every day during the month of June. He didn’t plant things neatly in rows—he let things grow wherever they wanted, and rarely weeded out any unidentified plants for fear of losing some exciting new variety. By October, it always looked more like a small jungle consuming our backyard.

Sometimes my sister helped me pick. She would start at one corner of the patch and systematically work her way through each plant, leaving no berry behind.

My approach was a little more impulsive. I would start by picking the first strawberries that caught my eye. I jumped around the patch, taking only the juiciest, brightest ones that poked out from under the leaves, gobbling up half of them as I went. Only after I exhausted these, I would realize that my bucket was only half full, and I needed enough to make a whole pie. Then I would go back through each plant, lifting up the leaves to find the deformed, half-rotten, or bug-eaten berries that would fill up the bucket.

Although the pies I baked were nothing compared to store-bought, they were certainly not the cream of the crop.

My blog posts remind me of those pies, but without the sugar to cover up the rotten flavor. When I write, I start by scribbling down the best ideas and words that come to mind on a particular topic. Then I realize that my wild musings will make sense to no one but me, so I rack my brains to find some way to string it together in a remotely cohesive way. The result is a semi-coherent goulash of mixed metaphors and awkward transitions from conversational writing to academic jargon, stumbling along the windy dirt road that is this website.

I need to figure out a more effective writing process. Perhaps more revision is what I need. Or just more time, so that I’m not frantically typing into my phone on the way to a concert, hoping that I’ll get home with enough energy to copy and paste this into WordPress!


Upon hearing me talk about my life story, multiple people have told me that I could write a book about it. Despite having only spent 23 years on this rock hurtling through space, I do think I’ve seen more astonishing sights and places than a lot of people. Thus, I have no excuse to complain that I have nothing to write about. Maybe I can’t come up with earth-shattering philosophical insights, but I can share the truth about my experiences and what I’ve learned, and I think that’s valuable.

Right now I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She advises aspiring writers to start by writing about their childhood memories. “Anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life”—even if it was grim and horrible. What matters is that you capture the truth of it, using colorful details and feelings that make it real for your audience. She recommends starting with the strongest, most specific memories and seeing where they lead you.

This advice echoes some helpful feedback I got via my Ask Me page a few days ago, encouraging me to share more about my personal experiences instead of attempting to wax eloquent on abstract subjects.

So I’m going to start flipping through the files to see which shadows from my past I want to shed a light on and incorporate those into my future posts.

I’m a Hack

A while ago, I wrote a post about how commercialization doesn’t necessarily degrade art and can in fact improve it. Contrary to popular belief, the greatest masterpieces of music and literature were not all created by starving artists toiling away in a candle-lit attic. Many composers’ most famous works were written to meet market demand and make a profit—yet we still consider Beethoven’s compositions to be works of musical genius.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield uses the term “hack” to describe a writer who asks what the market is looking for instead of asking what’s in his own heart.

“The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders. It can pay off, being a hack. . . But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.”

Some artists take this idea too far, refusing to accept feedback from their audience, yet expecting to be rewarded for their work simply because of the effort they put into it.

But I think you can be true to your Muse while still listening to your audience. You can adjust your content based on audience feedback, as long as it doesn’t conflict with what you stand for. Feedback can even inspire the Muse and fan the flame of passion and artistry. Market demand and artistic authenticity do not have to be at odds—they have incredible symbiosis.

With this in mind, I have created a new method for receiving feedback on my blog. I want to hear if you, my great readership, have any comments, questions, or suggestions for me. Just go to the Ask Me page and submit the form, which you can leave anonymous or not. I’ll respond to any interesting feedback in my posts.


One of my fears at the outset of this PDP was that I would be forced to publish writing that didn’t meet my standards of quality. Since I’m a slow writer and I only have so much time each day to dedicate to blogging, these fears came true.

I committed myself to this challenge because I believed the sacrifice of quality in order to meet deadlines would be worth it in order to overcome my debilitating perfectionism. While I still wanted to work on improving the style and content of my writing, the most important skill I wanted to develop was the ability to overcome my fears about what others will think. Some thoughts from Scott Berkun in an article about not being “precious” have helped me come to terms with this difficult task:

Being precious means you’re behaving as if the draft, the sketch, the idea you’re working on is the most important thing in the history of the universe. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore. When you treat a work in progress too preciously, you trade your talents for fears. You become conservative, suppressing the courage required to make the tough choices that will resolve the work’s problems and let you finish. If you fear that your next decision will ruin the work, you are being precious.

Perfection is a prison and a self-made one. Whatever you’re making, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion.

Although perfectionism might be a cop-out answer in a job interview, I truly believe it is one of my biggest weaknesses. And this experiment with blogging has helped me to see that my world won’t burst into flames if I miss a comma or use the passive voice.

However, I do believe that this practice of shunning perfection can be taken too far. Berkun says that “while your work might mean everything to you in the moment, in the grand scheme of your career, your life, and the universe itself, it’s just another thing that will someday fade away.”

This goes against everything I was taught as a child. Raised in a family of over-achievers, I was taught to do everything to the best of my ability. Although I have rejected many of my family’s teachings, this one remains a central tenet of my personal code of conduct. I value my reputation, and I try to treat every task as a reflection of my character. I pride myself on the high standards that I set for my work and I don’t like to do things halfheartedly.

I believe that you never know when your creation has the potential to change someone’s life. I know that certain excerpts from unsuspecting blog posts have affected me in ways that the author could never imagine, just because they hit me at the right place and the right time. Had the phrasing been a little less poignant, the words might not have had the power to pierce my soul.

There’s a fine balance between perfectionism and bold abandon, and I’m hoping someday I’ll find it.