To the Lost Writer:
I like to think that I chose writing. Maybe it’s a mix of it choosing me, like the moment when Harry finds his wand. A whoosh of wind and a warm glow when I wrote my first short story as a ten-year-old. I started with books first, and then it slowly developed into enjoying writing essays and short stories in fifth grade. But I didn’t always identify as a writer. I still identify as an artist because I don’t only write, but it’s taken a long time for me to identify as both.
I don’t think I give myself enough credit. I can’t count how many essays, poems, short stories, and whatever else I have written in my lifetime. I can’t keep them all and we’ve moved so much, my parents have lost things in the shuffle of unmarked boxes. I can only keep the memories of my journey. It seems trite to put this in list form (as I know many spoken word pieces that make fun of the list format).
I spent too long making this list because I want it to be right for myself, and hopefully, for other people. I want to do my years of experience justice because they’re all I have.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that I chose writing. I wish I could tell college freshman me that fighting against being an English major wasn’t going to work out in my favor and that I should switch from studying Communication. I spent years trying to convince myself that writing was just a hobby and it could never help with an income or that I could never be good enough to take it seriously.
I feel limited. I feel that even after studying English, I don’t have a grasp on my words and thoughts. I don’t feel like a writer. I feel lost, afraid, and out of touch with my skills.
This list is for myself, and for any writer who needs to remember that this all takes practice. It takes time, organization, and a whole lot of effort. These are lessons I have learned and ones I hope to keep learning and adding to. These are—
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Writer
1. The first draft is the scariest.
It’s going to be a mess. I know you want to fight it. I want to fight it every time. In college, I wouldn’t write the first draft until after outlining it and writing it in my head for a week. I would wait until the day or two before it was due. A horrible habit of perfectionism and anxiety, but I’ve given myself more kindness toward it. I don’t have to be perfect. My draft does not need to be perfect on the first try. I don’t have to prove I can turn into a diamond under pressure. I can be lab-made and more sustainable. I got better about sending in drafts earlier to my editors and friends. Even this month, I gave myself a much-needed break from Just Writers’ Things to take care of myself. It’s okay that this draft sat in my notes app until the next time I went on a plane.
I struggled with this draft so much. Part of me didn’t even want to write it because it means I have to be confident in what I’ve learned as a writer. And to do that, I first have to acknowledge myself as a writer.
But I outlined. I gave myself the time I needed. I stepped away and came back when I felt like I was going through too many mental hurdles. The saving grace is that this draft will go through edits and it will get better. Others won’t feel the anxiety I feel when reading this piece. They won’t have the reservations about whether or not it’s good enough for Mei-Mei to write.
That’s all in my head.
And remember, it’s in yours too. You experience what you experience and that is absolutely okay. It feels like the first draft is the scariest because it’s our first leap. But let it be a leap of faith into some damn good editors.
2. It’s not writer’s block. Sometimes you need a break.
When I graduated in 2019, I beat myself up about how I couldn’t get a poem out. I wrote a song I really loved. I sang at open mics. I spent time getting to know Vegas and working to save money. I did so many great things as an artist and as a new adult, but I felt like a failure of a poet.
For a decade, my poetry flowed out like a waterfall and I was heartbroken when it fell into a drought.
Looking back on it now, I was so hard on myself. It wasn’t until ten months after graduation that I felt like I wrote a solid piece. Twelve until I performed my spoken word again. And I remember feeling so tired. Of course I was tired. I spent four years doing everything related to writing. My major. My club. My job. I let it flow out of me until I had nothing left.
If my poetry was a waterfall, my passion was a forest fire. I get to grow from the ashes and see what I do next. I started the LYF blog as the Head Editor/Editor-in-Chief, but now I’m writing again because I’m ready. If you feel tired, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break. Pick something else. Changing things up can help you discover more about yourself. Rihanna stopped making music, much to everyone’s dismay, but in the last five years, she’s made the Fenty Beauty empire and Savage X Fenty lingerie line. Taking a break can help you fuel passions you’ve left on the backburner, and no, you’re no less of an artist or writer if you take a break, just like Rihanna is no less of a singer. Let’s all be like Rihanna.
3. Writing is not as solitary as movies make it out to be.
I think back to one of the Shakespeare courses taught by Professor Rose at UCSB, and he had a Powerpoint that lives in my head rent-free. He said when people think of Shakespeare, they think of the movie Shakespeare in Love and how he wrote Twelfth Night in one go at the ending all alone in his room. And he said writing absolutely didn’t look like that then and it doesn’t look like that now.
Shakespeare was a playwright. He was an actor. According to Professor Rose, Shakespeare wrote amongst friends and confidantes, asking for their advice and input.
We write alone, but writing is not a lonely venture.
The more serious I got into writing, the more I realized that I needed others’ support. I write better when my friends are in the room, snippets of their conversations inspiring lines. My best friends act as my editors and my audience. Writing on the blog has given me an avenue to hold myself accountable to deadlines and understand that my audience has needs. I also had the privilege of meeting so many talented writers who inspire me and give me the best advice. Poets’ Club sparked one of the most prolific periods of my life in terms of writing. Every Thursday we would sit in a circle, sit in silence for 20-30 minutes and write to a prompt we just heard. Well, most of us—there was a point where I was making the prompts. But even when I knew what it was beforehand, I wouldn’t know what to write until then.
We’d also get immediate feedback on what we had just word-vomited onto the page if we decided to share. People suggest different phrases or a more dynamic cadence. There was a time that I suggested the phrase “I do not tread lightly” and it actually ended up in the last line in my friend’s poem. Pieces of my friends and loved ones scatter across my works. My friends are in commas or in deleting the adverbs that I so love. We are the conglomeration of every experience and memory we’ve ever had.
Support and acceptance go a long way for artists. Sometimes that’s all we need. How can we do it alone, especially if we still need to learn to support and accept ourselves?
4. You are your worst enemy.
Unless you’re being forced to never write for some reason, the only person in between you and your writing is you.
Sometimes I look at my journals with a deep sense of pride and I love that I’ve written so much. And then there’s times like these past few weeks where I look at them and my heart aches because I haven’t written in them as much as I used to.
I feel like I should be writing 24/7. I feel like I should be on Instagram more. I feel like I should be more skilled at everything. I wrote more about the shoulds in my post about imposter syndrome, and I write this post knowing I’m too hard on myself.
If you told me you were struggling with perfectionism so much that it crippled your ability to write, I would tell you that I understand and that it’s going to be okay. I wouldn’t give you a list of shoulds and expectations. I wouldn’t treat you as harshly as I do myself.
We are the Anton Ego of our lives. We mull over every word we write, cross-referencing if they’re correct. If we write “synonym of” into our search bar, we’ll be reminded of all the times we wanted to sound more sophisticated. We’ll cross out phrases as we write, then go back and rewrite it just in case. It’s exhausting to be so self-critical.
It’s so easy to treat others the way we want to be treated, but we need to learn how to treat ourselves the way we want to be treated.
5. You are your best cheerleader.
And that leads me to this. YOU are your best cheerleader. YOU are working with yourself all the time. YOU see exactly how much improvement you make and when you make it. I have kept almost everything I’ve ever written, which is insane. Somewhere in my parent’s storage, all my writings from 1st to 12th grade are tucked away in a box I haven’t found yet. I log into my Tumblr to read my cringey teen poetry. I keep all my journals in chronological order on my bookshelf, where they started as early as 2013.
I keep things I care about. I know that no matter how many demons I fight, nothing will change the fact that I love writing and I care about it. We will have our bad days, but we’ll also have our good ones.
On a really good day, I’ll pick up a fountain pen or my favorite Pilot G-2. I’ll listen to the eternal Lofi Girl stream on Youtube and couple it with rain or fireplace ambient noise. I’ll set myself up with the best cup of tea with a glug of oat milk and I’ll write my little heart out. I’ll send it to a friend. I’ll post it to Instagram, or I’ll turn the piece of prose into a blog post like I have here.
Practice self-love with writing when the doubt creeps in. I’ve been reading The 5 Love Languages and let me end this section with some examples of how to love and support yourself as a writer.
Words of Affirmation: Write why you’re proud of yourself and pin it where you can see it.
Quality Time: Set aside time to write. It could be 30 minutes or over an hour, but devote your time to writing and relishing in the feeling.
Receiving Gifts: Buy yourself a new journal or pen. Maybe even some stickers to vamp up the pages.
Acts of Service: Lean on others for support. Talk to a therapist. Vent to your friends. Writers need help too.
Physical Touch: Flip through a book and smell the pages. Run your fingers across the keyboard keys when you need a break. Cover your shoulders with a soft blanket. Stretch breaks!!!
You know how you want to be cheered on better than anyone. Get your pom poms ready!
6. Storage space.
It looms over my head every time I open Google Drive. Red box. Alert! “You’ve used 90% of your storage space.”*
Obviously, don’t let it get as bad as I did. I’m still soul searching for whether I should just bite the bullet and pay $20 a year for 100 GB or to get an external hard drive for thousands of photos and videos.
*Update: I am now spending $20 a year for Google storage. I will unsubscribe when I get an external drive LOL.
I digress. I know that as writers, we accumulate documents, journals, manuscripts, and a huge digital footprint of words. Can you imagine what a word cloud of all your writing ever would look like? I don’t want to—I’m afraid of how many adverbs will be in there.
My #1 tip is to keep your writing together and if you can’t store it yourself, entrust someone to do it for you. I made the mistake of not giving my sister detailed instructions on how to handle my writings/artwork/etc. after I moved out to go to university and that bit me in the butt so hard, the bruise left a scar. My parents don’t really organize . . . it’s more like chaotic hoarding.
It’s been six years and I haven’t found any of it. I don’t even have pictures of my favorite work.
But now, my journals are together on a bookshelf. All the essays that I am proud of from college are in plastic accordion folders (which saved them when my house flooded). I have remnants of my high school writing in a plastic pink folder I used for all my English classes (pink was English, green was math or history, and purple was science).
Make digital copies if that’s your preference. Just keep your work safe and together. Recycle pages you don’t want. In the end, it’s all up to you and your preference.
7. Go outside. Live your life. You can write anywhere, but you don’t have to write everything.
To be specific, you have to learn how to write anywhere. It’s not easy. I’m finishing this blog post on the notes of my phone while on a flight. But we gotta make do. I’ve written poems on napkins, margins of my lecture notes, and even on my arm (use nontoxic ink). I’ve been teased for my random scraps but I can’t help it when the words break through.
Regarding the second part, I think one of the hardest parts of being a writer is that you just feel so damn guilty when you’re not writing. When something good happens, you feel like you have to write it down even if you don’t want to. Not everything that you experience has to turn into art. It’s okay to just live and experience things. Your memory will bring you back to it when you want to write about it.
So travel (safely and wear a mask). Go to cafes for coffee. Take walks and touch every flower you see. You don’t have to write about every single experience you have right at that moment.
There are things that happened years ago that I find inspiration from now and I don’t even have those feelings anymore. What’s amazing about writers is that we can tap into those emotions, and sometimes it’s better if we wait so we don’t end up in mental turmoil.
Write when you’re ready, and don’t let the pressure of having everything down ruin the moment. Savor, don’t squander.
8. It’s okay to write about other people or real memories, even if you turn it into complete fiction. Remember it’s also about you.
I used to be afraid to talk about myself. Before I took Spoken Word with Kip Fulbeck, I hid my experiences in metaphors and vague language. It was a conscious choice and I stood by it.
I didn’t want to involve my family in my writing. It can feel intrusive to talk about other people in your writing, and you can get a lot of flack for it.
Kip emphasized to me that it’s my story and if I want to tell it, I should be able to. Plainly. Honestly. For me.
I fell into a dry spell with writing the last few years because of my fear of offending people. I haven’t shared too much at all, and it feels exhausting. It feels exhausting to continue to hide parts of myself for the sake of everyone else’s feelings.
This came up as I sat in a session with my therapist.
“I’m afraid of writing about things that happened in the past. What if they don’t like it?”
She leaned forward and looked at me in earnest. “It’s your life. It happened to you and you have the right to talk about it.”
We are not responsible for other people’s reactions to what we write. My therapist says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
If you have a healthy relationship with them, absolutely let the person know that you’re writing about them and your experience. It can open up a dialogue if something hurt you in the past. But don’t do what Kanye did. I think that’s always a good example.
Speaking of Taylor Swift, she’s a great example of how writing about your life can bring about beautiful, raw and relatable works.
I love what she did with “the last great american dynasty” where she paralleled the public’s judgemental reaction to Rebekah West Harkness to her own experience. The lyric “I had a marvelous time ruining everything” gives me hope that you’re not going to please everyone, and at the end of it, artists create for themselves first. I could go on and on about her writing so I’ll end with this:
No matter how you write and no matter if you turn the feelings into fiction or turn it into confessional poetry, you’re going to get criticized. So why not write what you want?
9. Challenge yourself for the better. Say “yes AND . . .”
All my fellow theater kids know this improv game. Keep going. I wasn’t ready to focus on writing after college, so I spent the last two years working on admin and events with LYF. I became the Editor-in-Chief and Executive Assistant to give myself more experience with managing things, and I thought maybe if I wasn’t performing and managing at the same time, I wouldn’t be as drained as I was with Poets’ Club. I’ve learned more writing styles, how to set boundaries, and in general, work in a way that makes me feel good.
I challenged myself in ways that don’t seem like they directly work with writing, but I know all parts of event production, which is key if I want to get back into spoken word again. I’ve seen different editing styles and met so many writers that I’d be happy to help anytime and even share my work with them because I trust their judgment. I’ve fixed features on the LYF website and even added my own to make it better, which will help me build my own website one day. How can I possibly support myself independently as an artist if I don’t learn these fundamentals first?
I remember when I would say no to everything. I refused to go out to open mics because I was too afraid of judgment. I wouldn’t go out and network because I was too shy or I refused to believe I was even likable. It’s so terrifying to put yourself out there, but you get root bound. I wasn’t growing, I was only twisting more into myself.
Challenge yourself as a person, and that will help you become a better writer. The words will come. They will flow because we are letting ourselves be true and motivated. I’m glad I said yes to my spoken word course. I’m glad I said yes to living with my friends. I’m glad I said yes to working with LYF. I’m even glad I said yes to working in a restaurant. All of these things have challenged me mentally, physically (holiday season in a restaurant!!), and spiritually.
10. What if the work isn’t worth it? But what if it is?
“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you are willing to practice, you can do.” - Bob Ross
It’s so much work and sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re good enough or you’re ever going to feel ready to put out that huge project in your head onto the page.
Maybe you’re scared like me to get a job in writing because it’ll kill your passion. Maybe you don’t have support from your loved ones. Maybe you need a full-time job to pay rent and you are so exhausted, you feel like you can’t write at the end of the day.
Whatever the reason, if you want this, and you believe it is for you, go for it. Please. It’d be a damn shame to lose your voice in this world.
Let me tell you a little bit about Bob Ross. I put on a documentary about him at work because well, it’s educational and I really wanted to learn about him. But a simple fact is that he started out with teaching art classes in malls and stores. One time, only one man came to the class, and Bob’s colleagues told him not to bother, but Bob devoted this whole session to a single person. This guy ended up offering them $1M to have 40% of their profits. Of course, they took it as a compliment and went along to build themselves independently.
But the point is that no matter where you start, no matter how small, you can grow. “Talent is a pursued interest.” The first draft will not be perfect. It’ll take time to build an audience and a following. We are but small ships on a vast sea, but we’ll never know if we could’ve made it to the other side until we try.
So my lost writer, I hope you feel a little less lost now. It’s going to be okay, no matter what.
Cheers to new beginnings. I am filled with trepidation because I’ve stepped down from being LYF’s Executive Assistant and Event Coordinator. Now, I sadly announce I will step down as Editor-in-Chief by January. But I’m going to stay on as a writer. Writing will be my focus from now on.
If I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that what we’re going through right now is not permanent.
Change is the only constant. Take the steps that feel right to you and forge a path you feel proud to walk on. I’ll see you on the other side.
Remember. You are a writer. Every time your pen touches paper, there is magic. Wield it.
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About the Author
Mei-Mei is LYF's Executive Assistant, Event Coordinator, and Editor-in-Chief. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation. Thankfully she can choose when she moves now, so you'll see this jack-of-all-trades singing on stage and juggling open mic sign-up sheets, hoping to spread love in all the ways she can.