Life, Brought to You by Writing
I live and write in Crested Butte, Colorado, a mountain town surrounded by wilderness and national forest. I moved here from Minneapolis with three goals: discover a sense of place inspired by the outdoors instead of city-scapes; make a living in a small mountain town; and write meaningful essays and stories.
I had no idea that this life was possible: making my living as a writer, devoting time to creative writing, and transforming my sense of self from someone afraid of risk to someone with tremendous courage.
As a sixth grader, I had a simple life plan: write books and marry a semi-millionaire in case my books didn't sell. Throughout high school, I wrote all the time and took every writing class I could.
Then I took my first college writing workshop. I was so excited to reach the "big leagues" — but we weren't allowed to say anything good about each other's work. After a semester of learning what was wrong with my writing, I decided the writing life probably wasn't possible for me.
I followed the path of least resistance. Running a wilderness program for kids. Stumbling into into graphic design and communications, climbing the corporate ladder as an account supervisor. My biggest client was a well-known big box store, and I managed over $1.5 million of business a year. I loved my clients, I loved my coworkers, and I loved my 1920s bungalow by the Mississippi River.
But something about life felt flat. I had no sense of purpose. I wondered, What is the point? Luckily, I rediscovered writing. Community classes at the Loft Literary Center followed by a course at the the University of Minnesota. Finally, graduate school at Western Connecticut State University where I earned my MFA in creative nonfiction and journalism.
Writing Changed Everything
I wanted to be a witty but thoughtful travel or nature writer — David Sedaris meets Barbara Kingsolver on the open road. For my first grad school assignment, I wrote about a trip I'd taken to the Yucatan Peninsula with my husband. A funny topic, I thought, given our accidental stay at a nudist resort. But a sub-plot crept in as I wrote. I was unhappy. And because I didn't want to admit it, I wrote 30 pages to arrive at the 15 I turned in.
Writing became a struggle. Every time I tried to focus on a "safe" topic, I found myself writing about another part of life that I wanted to change. I realized I had a choice: stop writing, or take a deep breath and explore the topics that scared me. Divorce. Starting over. I chose to be brave (even though I didn't feel brave), and my writing and life transformed.
Readers connected with my work in new ways. I found the courage to change. By the time I graduated, I had written a memoir and gotten divorced. It was the hardest life has ever been. But in 2010, with clear vision and newfound courage, I packed up my car and moved west with my dog.
What I Know to be True
*If you love writing but you're not doing it—or not making the progress you seek—then part of yourself is not being expressed and something is missing from your life.
*When you devote yourself to writing and learn to tell heartfelt stories, you will open up a new and powerful sense of possibility.
*If you feel any kind of doubt or overwhelm about your writing, rules like "do it every day" will not be enough to show up at the page—and that's okay.
*When you let writing be an act of exploration and discovery, it feels good and you do too.
*When you approach writing as something you need to do in order to feel whole and alive, you will make space for it in your life.
Writing is a vital part of feeling alive.
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