Ever wish you could sit down with a super-accomplished person and ask, “What does it take to break into your industry? What’s it like to be you?”
With Pick My Brain, that’s exactly what we do.
Enjoy this new installment featuring my dear friend Laurie Wagner — author, writing instructor, creator of the Telling True Stories e-course, and founder of the 27 Powers writing center in California.
Lots of people stop themselves from writing because they think, “So many other people are much better writers than me! What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read?”
Any words of advice for those people?
What would you like them to know?
[Laurie]: You know, the person who answered this question best was the dancer Martha Graham when she said:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
I like this: “It’s not your business to determine how good it is.”
Your business, as someone who wants to write, is to get busy getting interested in the world around you.
Get curious. What do you think about? What are your obsessions? What do you find yourself talking about to friends? That’s what you might want to consider writing about because that’s what’s moving through you.
It’s really that simple. There’s nothing better to write about. And those writers who are “way more experienced,” they started with nothing but an idea for a story once too.
My writer friend Becky Ruiz Jenab is all about food. She’s an attentive chef and can mesmerize you with the details of sorting lentils or squeezing lemons for pie. When I asked Becky why she writes about food, she said, “By writing about your obsession, whatever it may be, that is where you ultimately discover where your sources of vitality come from.”
I love that: “sources of vitality.”
That means Becky doesn’t write about food because she thinks other people want to hear about food or because she might win a prize for it, but because sorting lentils or picking lemons from a tree fascinates her. She loses herself a little when she’s doing those things. She gets curious and she comes alive.
Becky went on:
“Anything you’re obsessed with or preoccupied by is worth writing about. No one will pay the same sort of devoted attention to it that you will; no one will bring it to life the way you can, because of that devotion; no one will see it the way you do, or live it or love it or feel it as you do. If it occupies that much space in your heart, it’s best to get it out, tell its story. It will resonate with others and have a life of its own.”
So what’s important here is not to ask yourself why others would care, but ask yourself why you care, and trust that.
Excellence comes in time after much practice. You might have to sort a lot of lentils to realize that, my goodness, they’re all different in size and color.
We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to rise to some superstar level immediately. We’re supposed to make a big splash if we’re any good. And we may, but it doesn’t happen because we’re special or have something more important than someone else to say: it happens because we get deeply interested in something so much that it wants to burst out of us. We want to share what we love.
So get busy loving.
I love racquetball. My friend Joel loves tennis, and my friend Lisa loves being a mother. That’s some of what we write about.
What do you want to write about? What do you love?