Do you ever get the feeling that someone who doesn’t even know you is speaking directly to you? That’s the feeling I got when I watched Meg Jay’s TED Talk called “Why 30 is Not the New 20.” What she says in her talk is valuable for all ages– not just 20-somethings. Her message is this:
If you want something, you have to work towards it.
As a writer who’s just starting out, the “working towards it” part is where I am right now. Here are a few ideas for building “identity capital,” as Jay puts it, rather than identity crises, for other writers in the same place– plus, some out-of-context-yet-extremely-true-and-beautiful quotes from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, because my love for Cheryl Strayed knows no bounds:
1. Write outside your comfort zone. If you decide not to do any kind of writing except short story writing when you’re just getting started, you might miss out on something really good. Don’t be afraid to try different things– technical writing, poetry, noveling, screenwriting. Learn as much as you can and develop as many skills as possible. Be a writing triathlete, practicing the transitions between forms and genres over and over again, until it becomes second nature. Then ask yourself what you want to pursue further.
Cheryl Strayed says it better: “Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”
2. Read critically. By that, I mean reading like a writer would read. Being fully engaged with whatever book/story/essay you’re reading in that moment. It’s so easy to be a Teflon reader and let everything slide over you, but when you take the time to talk to someone about a book you read, or read and respond to other peoples’ reviews on blogs, it helps you vicariously learn lessons about writing– and it helps you enjoy the book on a deeper level. Read in a way that makes things stick.
Cheryl Strayed says it better: “Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.”
3. Give back to a literary community. As I’ve said before, belonging to a creative community is an incredibly valuable thing for writers to do. But participating is easy and fun; giving back is taking participation to the next level. Volunteer to help at readings. Give rides. Clean up after a write-in. Give without expecting things in return.
Cheryl Strayed says it better: “In your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole.”
4. Don’t give up. I know becoming a better writer is a lifelong journey, and I’m prepared to stay in it for the long haul.
Cheryl Strayed says it better: “The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”