Recently a follower of this blog emailed me and asked what advice I had for someone like her who was a beginner writer and blogger. I was deeply flattered because I hardly feel like an expert on the subject and only recently has my freelance career started to take off.
In particular she wanted to know the “hows” and the “whys”. How did I choose my blog title? Why write about travel and mental health?
Reflecting on these questions provided an opportunity to examine what has shaped my writing over the past five years. While I don’t think there is any right way to write, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way and which I think answer her questions.
If you’re a beginner writer or just looking for some reassurance, I hope this helps.
1. Write what you know.
While “write what you know” is probably the best piece of advice I’ve received as a writer it is what I most misunderstood when I first started out. Write what you know isn’t about the events that happen in your life. It’s about the emotion those events provoke. In all the years you’ve been alive what have you felt? Despair after a devastating heartbreak? The sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a project? The adventures and misadventures of raising a child? The longing of an unrequited love? The loss of a friend or family member? The excitement of trying out a new recipe in the kitchen?
I can guarantee most everyone in the world can relate to these emotions in one way or another, although perhaps under different circumstances. If you write about the way you think the world is and about the things that are important to you, you will write from a place that is based on what you feel. Do this and readers will be moved and feel what you feel too.
2. Write with the sole intention of sharing.
When I turned 25 I made a 30 before 30 list and at the top of my list of career goals were 1) get published, and 2) write a book. At the time, my motivation for writing stemmed mainly from extrinsic rewards. I wanted to make my mark as a researcher in the academic world and I thought the only way to “make it” as a writer was to write a book. The thought of making money from my writing or being published in one way or another served as powerful motivators in the beginning, but over time I didn’t feel any particular sense of enjoyment from what I was writing about. Moreover, putting a timeline on achieving those goals made me feel pressured to accomplish something I wasn’t quite ready to do.
Over the years I’ve learned the key to finding happiness and fulfillment in my writing is to do it for the sole purpose of sharing. While extrinsic motivators have served me well, my career didn’t really take off until I started writing for the sake of writing. I was passionate about travel and from my own experiences with mental illness I was a strong advocate for mental health issues. I wanted to provide insight, help others, and along the way maybe even inspire them. When my writing became less about recognition and more about sharing, my career soared.
3. Be true to your voice.
The urge to imitate your favorite authors is incredibly tempting. After all, they’ve been successful in their own craft so if you copy what they do then surely you will be equally successful. While your favorite authors will undoubtedly influence how and what you write, imitating them is far different.
My favorite author is Elizabeth Gilbert but I will never write like her (although in the beginning I certainly tried to). When I finally came to terms with the fact I can’t write the way she does I started being more authentic. It’s when I started writing what I know! One thing I’ve witnessed is that many writers often spend too much time (especially if you’re an English major or in a writing program) imitating certain writing styles. Yes, there are components to fiction and non-fiction writing that you should adhere to but the way in which you write it or weave together a story should be unique to your own style.
4. Don’t let worry drag you down.
I often find myself doubting the quality of my writing. I worry about sentence structure and feel indecisive about how best to pursue an article. I write several articles a week and I’ve had more articles rejected than published. I worry about that too. I wonder if I’m going to get anywhere. I see other people my age aspiring to and achieving goals that I have yet to accomplish myself. I even worry about being worried. I believe every writer experiences this at some point or another and if you haven’t then I am skeptical. While it’s not particularly insightful, the only thing I can say about worrying is don’t let it drag you down and don’t be discouraged. Because eventually someone will read your work and say, “Yes, I want to publish this,” or, “Yes, I want to follow this blog.”
Overall, these tips answer the “whys” and part of the “how” in terms of coming up with my blog title (e.g. the tagline adventures of a travel enthusiast and mental health advocate). But what does The Scenic Way Home mean?
Well, despite my lust for travel I yearn for roots. And despite the fact I feel like my life is the equivalent to being on a seesaw, constantly moving between joy and despair, I always get through it. I always make it home.