You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. – Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic

Write, Even When You Don't Know How

My asparagus crowns, my garden journal, and my favorite pen.

In a box in my potting shed that was once the smoke house, I have tangles that look like the hair on a doll who was left in a mud puddle for an afternoon.  These precious tangles, the twists of dusty twine are asparagus crowns.  They need to go into my garden.  I have no idea how to plant them or when to plant them.  If I think about what I don’t know too long, those twists are going to sit and rot in the shed.

I have to plant them to see them grow, and even if they die, well, they would have died in that box in the shed anyway.

It’s the same with writing, really.  We don’t know a lot when we start – how to use point of view effectively or whether or not we should use peoples’ real names. We question whether we have too much detail or too little.  We carry around the weight of symbols and allusion that we learned when studying Wuthering Heights in 12th grade.  All that unknowing a tangled mess, it can be enough to just let it be a mess that fades to dust inside of us.

I will look up the directions on asparagus, figure out when exactly they should go in the ground – are they seasoned by St. Patrick’s holiday, too?  And then I will take what I do know – the tinier parts of those roots go down and the roots need to be spread like petals (I learned that by planting strawberries last year) – and I will get those babies in the ground.  Then, they will grow and spread, and soon, and for years after, I will have asparagus beds that come up on their own in the spring.  It’ll be a year before I see that, but I know it’s coming.

This is why we must write even when we don’t know where we’re going and aren’t sure what we’re doing. . . . it’s only in the writing that we untangle the thread of words and story and spread it out like a crown that will grow into a wild and wavering tree.  If we wait too long, the roots of all the stories we have to share may rot away into powder.

Here are the things I tell myself when I am resisting the start:

  • Remember, Andi, it gets easier once you get going.  Starting is the hardest part.
  • Remember, Andi, this is just a first draft. You can revise as many times as you need to once you get this draft done, but you have nothing to work with if you don’t even start.
  • Remember, Andi, the adage is true: “Perfect is the enemy of done.”
  • Remember, Andi, the practice is what keeps you whole. You write for the experience and the clarity you gain, not for the finished product.
  • Remember, Andi, you are the only one who can write this thing this way, and you never know who might need it.  So do it, girl.  (That last part is always in my mom’s voice.)

So maybe try taking out my name and putting in your own. Write those things out. Post-it them to your computer or your wall or your mirror.

Then, whisper this to yourself. “My words matter, imperfect though they may be.  They matter, and it matters that I write them, flaws and all.”

Believe me, it does.

What is your response when you don’t know how to write something you have to share? What do you do to get past that fear? 




I was honored with the Sunshine Blogger’s Award last week. Sylvia Saltwater nominated me, and I’m totally thrilled.

Here’s are the questions I’m supposed to answer. 🙂

1) Why do you write?

I write because it helps me make sense of the world.

2) How long have you been writing?

Since I was 6, but seriously for over 12 years.

3) Why do you blog?

I appreciate the chance to interact directly with readers.

4) Did writing or blogging come first into your life?

Writing, as an academic first and then as a creative writer.

5) How many times do you go back to edit what you’ve written?

Depends on what I’m writing. Blogs, once. Books, at least 5 times.

6) Does writing ever frustrate you enough to want to quit?

Every. Single. Day.

7) Do you want everything that you write to be published?

Nope. Some things are just for me.

8) How many books / magazine articles / etc. have you published?

I’ve published four books and a slew of journal pieces and magazine articles.

9) Have writing groups been helpful to you?

They have, especially my MFA program and the people I met there.

10) Do you ever think you are not a good writer?

Every. Single. Day.

I’m now supposed to nominate other bloggers, but instead of tagging folks in, I’m just going to suggest that some of you do this for yourselves.  Take this as my nomination to every blogger who reads this because your words matter, even on the days you think they don’t.