For Poets Stuck in Mud: Ruminations on Reading Work Aloud

Allie Rigby is a San Francisco Bay Area poet with roots in the chaparral of southern California. She received a Literary Arts Residency through Shuffle in 2020 and is now pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. Allie’s most recent project is The Herd, a seasonal arts & literary newsletter.

I did not write much in 2020. Words did not come to me as they used to. Historically, in my blip of a human life thus far, words might enter my mind, a phrase perhaps that I chewed for days before realizing that it was the opening line of a poem waiting for me to write it down. Those words stopped flowing in 2020. There are many reasons why I might have had trouble generating new poetry last year, and that’s another reflection in itself. In any case, I felt that my writing wheels were stuck in mud. The axel was broken. 

One day I was writing and the next day, I was not. That said, I was very lucky to be in conversation with some wonderful and inspired circles of artists via Shuffle, a Literary Arts Residency that has now evolved into an open platform for artists. During the racial violence and pandemic inequities of 2020, this group of artists held space for each other, as we shared work and also held space for the processing of the onslaught of injustices we were witnessing — and, in many cases, experiencing. It was an honor to be a part of that residency, and we also had our own Open Mic of sorts for a Weekend of Words. During our biweekly check-ins, we also had open conversations about imposter syndrome, our practice, and our 2020 goals. And yet… I still felt stuck with my own writing. Where had it gone? Was I overthinking its retreat? 

I attended a few virtual Open Mics in 2020, but I still could not shed the imposter syndrome lurking deep in my conscious. Why are you even reading at this event? That poem was no good. My inner critic can be so harsh. Plus, even with supportive online readings I had attended, it was hard to read to a quiet computer screen. So much of sharing one’s poetry live is to hear the “mmhmms” from the crowd — that magic moment when the poet on stage creates a connection with someone, or perhaps creates a new and glittering image, or an important reminder. That is the magic of poetry, or at least part of it. 

On top of the pros and cons for the Zoom world and the arts, I had writer’s block for most of last year. I still wonder if and how writer’s block actually exists: how does it affect the brain and the flow of words? Is there a chemical difference in the “writer’s flow” brain versus the blocked brain? A bit of dabbling in that arenas suggests that there is, but that’s another article in itself. I do know that for me, it was increasingly difficult to write anything that felt of value. My writing practice felt scattered, at best. 

So, this January 2021, when my good friend and fellow poet Brett Benson asked if I wanted to be the feature for an Open Mic, I froze. 

“How long is the set?” I asked, holding down my excitement coupled with nerves.

“Fifteen minutes.” 

Fifteen minutes. What. Fifteen whole minutes. Ah! 

I struggle to fill five minutes on stage. Three minutes is ideal. Plus, there was the added concern that I did not have fifteen minutes of poems to read aloud — that writer’s block or whatever it was, had not been offering much of anything. I scanned my journal entries for poetic bubbles floating out of the text and potential poems I could wring out, but the soap duds had all popped, leaving no rainbow shine on the page. Fifteen whole minutes…

“Yes!” I said to Brett. Why are you saying yes?? My imposter syndrome begged for answers.  I tried to ignore it, in the days leading up to the reading.

This might not seem like a big deal for many folks, especially those who know and love the stage. But I’m a shy poet. And I’m a quiet poet. I’d rather someone read any of my poems in a different room — or preferably a different state or country — from where I am. Ideally, sometime within the next couple years, if they feel so inclined, the reader could write me a little letter saying, “I truly did like your poem,” with a little smiley face and we can both feel seen and call it a day. Even when my partner reads a poem, I have to leave the room — and sometimes, the apartment too. 

I surprised myself when I said yes to Brett’s proposal. By the time the Open Mic rolled around, I could not cancel on my friend — though imposter syndrome almost convinced me that I should. It was a Monday night poetry reading and I stood in front of my laptop, which was stacked on a pile of books. Poets trickled into the virtual space like magicians, arriving amid high winds and power outages in San Francisco. While I was grateful for this chance to read my work — even though I was sweating in front of my computer from nerves — I felt undeserving. There was a faithful group of poets here who always attended this biweekly Open Mic, and I did not. I would understand if anyone felt resentment for me having the featured set that night. Was this humility or imposter syndrome or both? Either way, imposter syndrome taunted me like a character from Tina Fey’s Mean Girls… “She doesn’t even go here!” 

I was the first poet that night, of the two main features. I read for fifteen minutes and almost ten poems. Maybe I read them really fast. Probably. But I read them. I reminded myself to breathe and let the words carry themselves through the air. 

There were some comments in the chat, catching snapshots of certain lines that resonated with people — the online version of the “mmhmms” and snaps that I missed from in-person Open Mics. This is not to say that validation from other people is something to strive for, to assure that your poems are “good.” Only you can know if your poem delivers. But poetry is meant to be vocalized, and there is something unique about a poet reading their own work, in the tone and with the delivery that they intend. If a poem read aloud is a message, an echolocation of sorts into the air waves, then it is special to receive a clap back, so to speak. I hear you, those claps might mean. I feel that. You’re not alone there. 

After reading these poems aloud, I got to relax and hear the second feature — who I believe was performing an entirely memorized poem — my jaw dropped several times at the performance. I am in such awe of people who memorize their work. It’s possible he was reading from a notebook that I couldn’t quite see, but in any case, I was mesmerized by his stream-of-conscious delivery. I missed this aspect of Open Mics: the listening. 

After both features read, we received claps from those who had their cameras on, and the little thumbs-up emoji from the corners of people’s Zoom box. It was humbling to think that someone had listened to fifteen minutes of my work. It made me feel something like drive again, writer’s drive — which is perhaps the opposite of writer’s block. In that moment, I wanted to write more, and write stronger, more meaningful pieces. I wanted to deliver and crack into vulnerable and empowered spaces of the heart chamber, as those after me would in their reading. But for now, I felt relief that I had read anything aloud; it had been months and would have continued to be months, maybe even years, if Brett had not asked me to consider reading at this Open Mic. Plus, I got to sip my warm tea and listen to the incredible work of the eight or so poets who read after us, many of whom have been features before and have several books of poetry out in the world. 

It was an evening that reminded me to not stick to rigid lines of thought, such as “I have writer’s block.” We can bend the mind, change the lines, and tell ourselves, “I might be writing less right now, but I love attending Open Mics — I’ll try to attend one each month.” 

I’d like to write how all of my imposter syndrome dissipated after this reading, but it did not. I’d like to write how the words started flowing again and that every ounce of writer’s block disappeared, but it also did not. What did happen was a wave of gratitude and emotion that poured over me, for each human who was kind enough to share this virtual space with me, to give me to the floor for fifteen minutes, and to welcome me with their warm presence. This Open Mic, if anything, was a reminder for me of the special communities that can form between people who believe in the power and the exchange of words. It was humbling to read in front of a close-knit group of poets. I longed for a group and in-person space to toss ideas around, to let artists and activists collaborate, and to keep the pens moving on paper. But for now, this was a plentiful reminder of why artist communities need spaces — virtual or not — to share ideas. 

I had been avoiding Open Mics for all the wrong reasons — so I’ll I offer you the same advice that I’m giving myself. Read your work aloud and sign up for Open Mics if you can. There are so many of them, especially these days with our Virtual world. If you don’t know where to start looking, Poets & Writers has a great listserv of reading venues. Here are a handful of Open Mics in the San Francisco Bay Area, as a start. Maybe I’ll see you at one, and we’ll both feel shy and nervous to deliver our work. Maybe it’s a good poem. Maybe it’s a “meh” poem. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not going to promise that reading your work aloud will shatter the glass cage of writer’s block or imposter syndrome, but it may remind you — as it reminded me — of the greater purpose of writing, and of the communities of people who each have something to say. 

The Singing

Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Her first book is Tell the Turning, a collection of poetry with pen-and-ink illustrations by Lucy Bellwood, which will be available for pre-order in May 2021. This is the latest installment in her monthly column about the creative practice.

Such silence. I step out onto the covered back porch and listen while my eyes adjust to the moonless dark. Nothing. Then: a car on the highway, half a mile away. A light wind, jostling the arborvitae. At last, so low and deep I have to think it first: the winter sea, resonant in the middle distance. 

It is the week between Christmas and the New Calendar Year, and I have come with my housemate-family to a little-sung slice of Oregon’s edge. We’ll spend six days reading, cooking, hiking, and playing board games, without the clock to rule us. It is the end of 2020, and Covid-19 has made the usual holiday travel ill-advised. We like each other enough to vacation together, so we have made yet another virtue of quarantine.

I am intending, this week, to write poetry. Among things I love, writing poetry ranks consistently high. Not poetry itself — though I do like that, very much — but the composing of it, the work of it. Poetry is a vocation primarily because it will not leave me alone. And fortunately I don’t want it to. We’re suited. 

Fast forward five days. I have sat down each morning to write, and I have written. It’s all bad. Beautiful words, that wander with me down lonely beaches and secret, sand-floored halls of pine, in written form decline to become other than blowsy prose. 

I don’t despair. Writing crap is an important part of eventually writing well. But I am disappointed. Such silence, such a lack of responsibility, such an enviable spaciousness of time — and I haven’t written a single other-than-ordinary sentence, even in my oldest and best companion, my journal. 

Is this writer’s block? The conflicting advice on this phenomenon (or figment, depending on who you ask) makes my head ache. My strategy has been to ignore the idea unless it becomes immediately relevant. I’m pondering it this afternoon, and deciding it’s still not applicable. I’m writing; I’m just not writing anything worth working on. I close the keyboard, button my jacket, pull on my boots. The beach will sort me out, one way or another. 

The sharpening southwest wind drives rain into my eyes, rolls cylinders of seafoam up the winter-steep sand. I’m grounded for balance among dull-gold sedges, in the space between three big dunes. I am speaking poems. I realize I have been doing this — in my mind, under my breath, quite loudly in places devoid of other humans — all week. 

This is the same beach, in the same season, where I composed two poems from my recently finished, forthcoming book, Tell the Turning. It’s these two I’m speaking now. One’s a memorized whole; the other’s a jumble of fragments, puzzle pieces spilling from my tongue to scatter sandward. 

I have stopped trying to compose. A fierceness has welled up in me, a need to speak these poems already shaped. To whom, and to what purpose, am I telling them? Sky and sea accept them without comment. 

I have written before that the process of writing a long work has two distinct phases. The Gathering is a gentle, curious, wandery state. The Shaping that follows it is more like falling in love: focused, exhilarating, intense. Until now, these are as far as my experience went. 

Tell the Turning has been Gathered and Shaped (and Re-Shaped.) It has found a publisher (and — unexpectedly, wonderfully — an illustrator.) All of its momentum now belongs to them: typesetting, pen and ink, an ISBN. My work would seem to be finished. Today I am learning that this is not the case. There’s a third phase.

Back from the beach, this afternoon I have been in the hot tub again. (It’s a principal attraction of the house we rented.) This too summons a poem — nothing to do with a hot tub, but with a feeling I have this week, of immediate enclosing warmth surrounded by elemental chill, of surfacing to a space of quiet after a time of turmoil. 

This moment, I am bundled in blankets on the porch. I can hear the distant surf just over the pastures, feel the cold fastening down as the sky solidifies, and listen to the wind in the douglas-firs, and a gutterspout dripping with melted frost. Poems come like memories: sharp or gentle; insistent. Now that I’m paying attention to their need for it, I’m letting each one borrow my voice, and take its time to take form and flight. 

I am, as near as I can tell, incanting Tell the Turning — helping in some speak-aloud way to encourage its physical form. I did not begin on purpose, but I am speaking now with serious intention. I love these poems, these lines and lilts and rhythms already born of me. I am no longer in charge of the logistics of their physical manifestation. Instead, I am chanting them into being. 

Because poems are more than sounds, because they require also rhythm, and often feel as though they are halfway set to music — the name of this phase (it’s so obvious now) is The Singing. 

I sometimes don’t realize I’m conceiving a new project. Especially if it’s a big one, like a book — something that will begin in the amorphous Gathering stage and gestate there for awhile. I have a lot of ideas, and a need to be always creating. Sometimes it takes being blocked — as I have been these past five days — to show me that I’m trying to create something I am not yet ready to create. Intuition is telling me: this is not a project, yet. It’s telling me also: Sing the project that’s still inside your heart. 

The Singing seems to be about launching a finished work into the world, but there’s a shadowy complement to that much-admired forward movement. The Singing contains a sadness too, a letting go. It has come to help prepare me — to live in the world without having this work to do. 

There will be other work. I’ve been trying this week to get to some of it, but it’s the unfocused, Gathering sort, and it’s not yet satisfying. The concentrated work of The Shaping is a long way off again, and I miss it. I’m tripping over my longings because I still need to acknowledge and let them be. 

Wendell Berry wrote a line that comes to me often: Again I resume the long lesson. This understanding that I cannot do two, three, ten things at once without consequence is a long lesson I am learning over and over. I am done writing Tell the Turning, but it is not done with me. Before I can move on to give full attention to another project of this scale, I need to shape this one some wings and let it go. I need to shape myself some wings, too: for floating, dreaming, back toward a Gathering space. 

It seems my way of doing this is to Sing. 

I’ve brought them home from the coast, and will be incanting some of these poems publicly as well. Typically, I publish one original poem a month, with audio, at In the months leading up to Tell the Turning’s release (so, starting now), I’m turning that practice into an extension of The Singing. You are cordially invited. 

When Maintaining a Regular Writing Schedule Goes Out the Window

Stephanie Harper is the author of Wesley Yorstead Goes Outside (Propertius Press, 2020), as well as the poetry collection Sermon Series (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her narrative nonfiction work can be found in a number of publications, including HelloGiggles, HuffPost, Living Lutheran, Grok Nation, Aleteia, Healthline, The Daily Dot, Folks Magazine and more. She often writes about chronic illness and spirituality.

If you’ve spent any time in writing circles, you’ve probably heard some version of the “write every day” adage. The intent of this advice is sensible. After all, the only way to really hone your craft as a writer (or in any creative pursuit) is to continue doing it. To quote another popular cliché: practice makes perfect. 

In a perfect world, I would practice my writing all day, every day, churning out work at a rate of prolificacy that would make the Stephen Kings or Joyce Carol Oates of the world blush. But this is not a perfect world and I am far from a perfect writer. This is real life. 

Let me give you a snapshot of my real life. I have been plagued with increasingly complex chronic illness for close to a decade. For the last seven years, that has included a constant, unremitting headache I woke up with one morning and haven’t been without for a single second since. I spend a lot of time resting, because any physical or mental exertion wears me out. I nap daily. If I don’t take these breaks, if I don’t get the rest I need, if I overdo it too often, I can be down and out for a week or longer. 

All of this is to say that my writing life has suffered. Where I used to write in floods, churning out pages and pages each day, now I write in trickles. I also maintain a part-time job (all I can manage with my increasingly severe symptoms) that requires creative work, and this work often takes precedence. Finding time — and perhaps more importantly, energy — to write for me, to work on my stuff, isn’t always easy. 

More than anything, this makes me feel like an imposter. When I go days at a time without working on my next book, without writing a single thing, how can I call myself a writer? Add in all the feelings of being in a pandemic, and I know I’m not writing anywhere near as often or as successfully as I would like to be. It’s easy to feel disappointed in myself, my situation, all of it. It’s easy to get into cycles of frustration which only increases my lack of motivation.  

And yet, the writing still comes. I publish articles and essays, often about my health — which has been it’s own sort of catharsis. I published my debut fiction novel in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, and threw myself into launching and marketing the book. I have worked a great deal on my current project, a sort of health memoir in essays, and it isn’t out of the question that I could have a final draft by the end of 2021. I have found what works for me — and while it might not be conventional, it is working.

For all of us who just can’t make a commitment to a daily writing habit, here are a few alternatives that I have found helpful at various times in my writing life:

  • Set a weekly word count or page goal. This is especially helpful for writers who are working on a novel, memoir, or some other long-term project. What’s nice about a weekly word goal is that you can still feel that sense of accomplishment, but you can fit the writing of those words into whatever pockets of time work for you. 
  • Speaking of pockets of time, be intentional about scheduling time to write. It doesn’t have to be every day, of course, but look at your calendar for the week and block out specific chunks for writing. Use those chunks as your allotted time for the week. Then, any additional time is an added bonus. And, if something comes up that prevents you from using that scheduled time, as something often does, just reschedule it. Don’t be hard on yourself. But know that there is always a time in your calendar to look forward to writing. 
  • Produce one great piece of writing a week. This could be one article or essay or short story. This could be 500 or 1,000 words of a manuscript that you’re just really proud of. You get to decide what constitutes a great piece of writing for the week, which also means you have to be intentional about considering your own work and finding something to love about it. 
  • Don’t discount the importance of thinking about writing. Even if you can’t sit down and put pen to paper (or fingertips to computer keys) on the daily, you are probably thinking about what you are working on, planning, plotting, or revising in your mind. This is all a really important part of the writing process. Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself of this. Buy a fancy notebook where you jot down all your best ideas. Keep a running bullet list on individual projects on your phone or in an email thread so it’s easy to update whenever inspiration strikes. If you are the type whose best ideas come when you can’t sleep, keep a notepad by your bed. However you do it, making a routine of writing out your thoughts will make you feel productive, even on those days when the writing just doesn’t happen. 
  • Celebrate your successes. Whether it’s once a week, a month, or an annual retrospective, make sure you look at all the work you’ve done. List out everything you’ve published, keep track of your total word count, number of drafts, whatever you can look out and see just how much you actually accomplished. It’s always more than you think it is. 

My Creative Energy Skyrocketed When I Slashed My Mindful Morning Routine

Katie Lemon is a nomadic writer currently based in Oaxaca, Mexico. A self-proclaimed “conscious copywriter,” she works exclusively with brands making a positive impact on the world — from sustainable businesses to non-profits and feminist organizations. She also writes personal essays about travel, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Wake up with the sun. Move through a lengthy yoga sequence before meditating for a half hour. Scribble out morning pages by hand: three laborious pages of stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Bundle up for a brisk morning walk. Come home, peel off all my layers, and craft a balanced breakfast and homemade latte.

Finally, finally, sit down at my computer to work. Wait — no, I still have to set my intentions for the day. Close laptop. Check the time. 10:30 a.m. Bang head on desk repeatedly.

I’ve always believed in the power of a solid routine. By following the same daily structure, I’ve been able to work away at even the most insurmountable tasks and see real progress take shape in both my personal and professional life. 

Plus, having lived in five cities and three countries over the last couple of years, my routines have felt nothing short of essential. Without them, I feel untethered. So when I dove headfirst into full time freelance work over a year ago, I knew I wanted to establish the sort of morning routine that would keep my creativity stoked and my passion for my work alive. 

Enter the morning routine to end all morning routines: a laundry list of healthy habits and introspective practices that would surely make my freelance life blossom with creative insight and productivity.

When I first decided to do yoga, meditate, write morning pages, walk, cook a hot breakfast, and set daily intentions before launching into the tasks that actually made up my job, I figured I may have discovered the secret to an ideal work-life balance — a sort of enlightenment I couldn’t wait to achieve.

I could see it so clearly: I’d feel more grounded than ever. I’d float from task to task after my luxurious morning routine, feeling so deeply connected to my inner well of creativity that ideas would pour forth from me with ease. My skin would begin to glow. Tiny cherubs would float around me as I lay down to sleep at the end of a satisfying work day. And then I’d wake up to do it all again, my energy never wavering.

The night before I set out to accomplish this lengthy list of to-do’s for the first time, I gleefully set an alarm for 7 a.m. I envisioned myself waking up with birdsong and the sun, stretching my arms overhead, eyes clear and bright.

Instead, when my phone blared at me the next morning, I awoke with a start. Squinting at my screen to turn off the alarm, all I wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep. But I couldn’t hit snooze, at least not on the first day of what was going to be my Dream Morning Routine.

I begrudgingly sank down onto my yoga mat to crank out a few sun salutations. My creaky morning joints cracked and popped in protest. I dreamt of leaping back into bed, or at least making some coffee. As I moved from one pose to the next, ideas for my work kept running through my mind. But I forced them out, feeling guilty for not staying present in the morning routine that was meant to leave me inspired and refreshed.

The rest of the morning proceeded like that. And so did the rest of the week, and the week after that. Each day, I noticed myself sitting down to work later and later. My breakfasts got more complicated. I decided to add some resistance training before my daily walk. I started hitting snooze, because as soon as I woke up I dreaded the thought of sitting for a half hour with my legs crossed followed by writing three pages of my most asinine morning thoughts. 

No thank you. I’ll just stay here in bed. Morning pages can wait another fifteen minutes, right?

This went on for three months. I spent more time, energy, and focus on my morning routine than any other part of my day. By the time I finally sat down to write for work, I was already sapped of creative energy. I had been up since dawn, and what did I have to show for it? Some chicken scratch filling an old notebook and sore sit bones. But I pushed through, thinking that soon enough, I would feel the benefits of all this inner work that I set aside hours for each day.

At the end of the third month, I landed a big project. It was a rush job for a new client — I would need to pump out a lot of work in a very short amount of time. I was excited to do the job, but nervous, too. So on the first day, I got to work immediately: I woke up, stretched for a few minutes, made some coffee, and jumped straight in. 

After chipping away at the project for a few hours, I had made some major headway. The words had flowed easily. I felt energized and inspired. I stopped to check the time. 10:45 a.m. I did a double take. I had already finished a third of the project by the time I would normally be sitting down to start work. 

That’s when the irony of the situation hit me, and I wasn’t sure if I felt closer to crying or laughing. Forcing myself to check off a 3-4 hour to-do list every day before I could even think about my work had robbed me of the time, energy, and mental space I needed in order to do my best creative work. 

From there, I completely slashed my morning routine for a few weeks. I simply got up when my alarm went off, stretched a bit, and made a quick breakfast before sitting down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee.

I watched my creativity and my productivity skyrocket. Ideas came to me quickly and easily. I had more time to pitch the kind of work I really wanted to be doing, and the energy to turn out my very best work for clients.

I was no longer funneling all my brain power into a bunch of activities that were meant to prepare me for the day, and instead just getting straight to what I needed (and wanted) to be doing: writing.

It’s been over a year now since I realized how detrimental my morning routine was for my creative process. After a few weeks of the most minimal morning routine I’d ever had, I did start to feel a bit ungrounded — like my life revolved around pumping out client work and checking off essential tasks. 

These days, I’ve found a harmonious balance between the “dream” morning routine that left me drained and the minimalist routine that made me feel burnt out. 

I’ve brought back the morning pages because I do love the catharsis that comes from dumping all my thoughts somewhere. But I no longer write them by hand, and I no longer force myself to write three pages — I just open a blank document on my computer and let the words pour out until I feel like I’m finished. I usually do a little yoga before I sit down at my desk chair, but I keep it short, slipping in a 2-3 minute meditation at the end. I make a quick breakfast, but I always cook something hearty enough to stay fueled.

And most mornings, I’m poised at my laptop, digging into my work for the day between 8:30 and 9 a.m. 

I had to listen to my gut rather than a long list of self-imposed “shoulds” to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. I kept the non-negotiables: the things that truly made me feel grounded and connected to myself. But I shortened them all greatly. 

I thought my dream morning routine was the key to being a creative person and successful writer. I thought that because I could now construct my days however I wanted, there was no reason I shouldn’t indulge in all the habits that normally connect me to my creativity first thing in the morning. 

In reality, all it did was make me feel constantly behind. Like every day was getting away from me. Like I had to complete this list of to-do’s before anything else, even while I tried to hold myself back from drafting the first lines of an article in my head during meditation, or scratch down a reminder to myself to email that one client before I took my morning walk. 

With the balanced morning routine I have now, I still feel like I get to connect to that intentional part of myself that loves to start each day slowly and purposefully. And even moreso, I’m not rigid about it. If I’m feeling inspired and want to jump right into work without doing my morning pages, I do. If I’m feeling antsy and can’t bear the idea of slowly moving through a yoga sequence, I dance around my kitchen while I make breakfast instead. 

I no longer feel beholden to a daily checklist that only gets in the way of my creativity and productivity. Instead, I listen to what my body and brain need each day, and I honor that instead of some arbitrary routine I’ve forced upon myself. 

It’s not perfect, but I have to admit: I feel much closer to being surrounded by cherubs and birdsong every day — and much more connected to my creativity. 

This Is Not a Project

Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Her first book is Tell the Turning, a collection of poetry with pen-and-ink illustrations by Lucy Bellwood, which will be available for pre-order in May 2021. This is the latest installment in her monthly column about the creative practice.

My word for this year is Listen. 

Almost the moment I settled on this word, it began to resonate in ways I did not expect. It turns out that if you are focused on listening, just about anything will come to you with a message. Including things that are traditionally classified in my language as inanimate — for example, creative projects.

I choose a word every year, somewhere in the long new year season that begins at October’s end. In fact I don’t choose my word; I let it come to me. How does this work? I don’t know. Intuition. Listening. (That’s right: my present word is deeply meta.) If you pay attention — and you get a bit of a bonus when you have experience to apply to that attention — you’ll know when you’ve got the right word. 

The element you don’t have to know is why. Part of the magic — part of the utility — of having a year-word is letting is surprise you as the year unfolds. 

Which is what happened to me when my new writing project refused midstream to become a project at all. 

I think of creative projects like this: “self-directed, long-term generative exercise[s] with a unifying theme or goal. Installments are done at regular, pre-determined intervals. They’re published as I go, creating accountability for myself, and allowing for outside participation.” This definition derives from experience, and attention to that experience. But maybe in this case I’ve been letting Experience pull ahead of Attention, when really they function best as equal partners. 

Per Experience, I had outlined themes, goals, intervals, accountability, and outside participation for what I was calling The SW Portland Pilgrimage Project. Themes and goals went swimmingly in practice: there were long walks across places I’d never met. My mental map of my own city filled in appreciably. I savored the parks, the views, the wayfinding, the jaywalking, the iffy interstices and the ugly edges. Every day I got to spend on the trail was a great day. 

The writing part, though: the writing was hard. This should have been my first clue. But I wasn’t listening.

The pre-writing involved taking notes as I walked — not an unusual practice for me. But this time, it was a slog. Even as I cataloged thoughts, I got impatient. I felt rushed. Those feelings kept surfacing, because I kept ignoring them. 

The drafting involved — again, per Experience — sitting down as soon as possible to turn my notes into prose. I got anxious and annoyed when I found that this, too, was a slog. Technically, the write-ups I produced are fine: they’re well-written, they’re on-theme, they’re interesting. But they lack the spark that animates all good writing. I tried and failed to strike that spark six times. 

The presentation involved figuring out a way to model (specifically, to map, in the sense of mind-mapping) my pilgrimage. I spent whole days on this, hitting conceptual and then technical barriers that became — instead of puzzles to solve — monsters to slay. I was angry. I was staying up way past my bedtime. I was bursting into tears over bad search functionality in support forums. The message, at this point, was coming in loud and clear, and I finally listened. This is not a project.

Projects are a lens. Or a model, if you like, or a tool. A particular way of engaging curiously with the world. Using this tool has helped me accomplish goals, inhabit new ideas, meet people, play more, and become more myself. You can see why I love it — and why, perhaps, I’m liable to approach every problem or interest or idea with a project designed to explore and illuminate it. Suddenly I’m remembering that old saying about hammers and nails. 

The SW Portland pilgrimage continues. The moment I struck that word project, the pilgrimage part took its rightful place at the heart. The walking — a practice, not an analysis, of attention, locality, & fidelity — became, as it was meant to be, the purpose of the undertaking. 

I love writing. I love creating an interaction point for my online community. Those are both things projects love too. They are not what this pilgrimage wanted to be about. I was trying to analyze before the experience had time to even happen, let alone to settle.* I was trying to communicate it out without absorbing it myself. I was intellectualizing something fundamentally mysterious, materializing something fundamentally spiritual, and publicizing something fundamentally private. 

Sometimes you come up with a good idea, and you’re wrong about it. 

Listen to the idea along the way, because it’s telling you how it wants to be shaped. It’s telling you if you’re bending it a direction that will only break. This is not the end of the idea, even if you do break it. You get a choice now: adjust, have faith, and accept the opportunity to cultivate patience. Or, lament the time and the effort “wasted,” and keeping trying to hammer that thing that’s not a nail.

Fiction writers talk about this with character and plot: how they can’t make a character do anything, or the story will stall; how characters, once given life, expect a say in it. When Elizabeth Gilbert was interviewed for On Being, she talked about how ideas have lives of their own, how they actively partner with us to become incarnate. 

All of this sounds a little magical and fuzzy for our technically-advanced, bottom-line society. For me, to be awkwardly honest. But I don’t have to — I don’t get to — believe in it. It’s there to be experienced, and I just have, again. The mystical-sounding thing we call intuition is really just those two partners I was talking about earlier: Experience and Attention, pulling in tandem. 

So here I am, paying attention, applying my experience. Listening. 

* I copied out a passage, years ago now, from Jonathan Raban on exactly this — how the writer’s constant dilemma is simply: experience, or reflection? Past Me (not yet a writer) was already storing up lessons that Future Me needed. 

Photo credit: Tara K. Shepersky

Mapping the Creative Self: On Mind Maps, Play, and Broccoli

Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She is also the creator of The PenPal Project, an experiment with community, sustainability, and joy. This is the latest installment in her monthly column about the creative practice.

Recently I drew a map of my thoughts. It was a Monday afternoon; I was sitting outside. I started scribbling words and pictures, circling them, connecting them. Entries included: solitude, loneliness, grief, prayer, salt, Quakerism, politics, Jane Austen, “the sky right now,” and broccoli.

Do you know about mind-mapping? A book called (I am not kidding) How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci* taught me how to mind-map when I was maybe 14, and I’ve returned to the practice many times since, shifting the exact technique to suit my needs. 

Occasionally I use it to think through a problem or an important choice, but that’s not a fun use, it’s a productivity-related use, and productivity is a pursuit I mostly avoid. 

I’m told — constantly, by people or corporations who are trying to sell me aids to both — that productivity and creativity can play nice. I’m also told this by intelligent folks whose enormously productive creative output I enjoy — like Craig Mod, and Nicole Dieker

But if I’ve learned anything useful about my own creativity, it’s that it doesn’t like to be scheduled or timed or optimized. It will produce under those conditions, but it prefers — and tends to make better art on — its own terms. I’ve also learned that trying to negotiate those terms leads, more often than not, to a tangled pile of emotional exhaustion, missed sunrises, and tears.

So — I use mind-maps not as a productivity tool, but as a way to preserve and explore a moment in time. Maybe for later use in a poem or essay; maybe because my brain won’t stop spinning and I need to dump everything out to get a good look at it. Maybe as a snapshot for comparison with earlier snapshots, so I can see the way my curiosities and resonances, my reading and my thinking and my worrying, change and connect from from moment to moment.

It’s been said enough times that I don’t know who said it: all artists have a few primary themes they return to, again and again. Mapping creates a visual record of my themes: what’s stuck around, what’s refined or shifted, what’s resolved. This kind of record makes a fine place to begin — or a fine yardstick to revise — a piece of art. 

I also take notes during lectures/interviews/author conversations (like the online events Point Reyes Books and Emergence Magazine have been holding throughout the pandemic), and during those long and intense idea conversations you sometimes have with friends. These notes tend to take a mind-map shape. They’re messier, less considered, less illustrated than the free-write sort. I keep them jammed together in a tiny notebook, to see how they speak to each other. (The Florilegia Project continues to inspire.**)

Sometime I make maps for no particular reason — for play. In 2018-2019, I was very into seasonal mapping. At each quarter and cross-quarter day (Samhain, the solstices, etc), I would map the moon phase, the hours of daylight, the flowers in bloom and birds in action, dominant landscape colors, phases of tree bark, my own seasonal traditions.*** I have one of these maps for each of the eight seasonal turns. I never expected to put them to this use, of course, but here we are in this Covidtide of never traveling — and my maps have become bridges to beautiful memory, and consolations when I miss my places and people.

There’s something playful in the format of the mind map itself, maybe because it’s not my usual type of creative endeavor. My various maps are drawings, not prose or poetry. They have words all over them, mostly because I’m not technically gifted or skilled at illlustration. But those words are fragmentary, directionally wayward on the page, and their context is deconstructed. Sometimes I don’t remember what I meant by them at the time. (“Salt?” No idea.) The result, at least at the time, often matters less to me than the doing. I’m not invested in an outcome. I’m exploring.

And sometimes play is a type of problem-solving, just for fun: I enjoy the feeling of wrangling a random and fleeting moment onto a static page. 

I like to imagine mixing all of my maps together, into one very large book. It starts out looking quite normally book-like, but then pages unfold backwards and upwards and accordian-style, until what I have is an illustrated imagining of my own brain over a period of years. 

In fact, there’s interesting software that does something like this, brought to my attention by Lucy Bellwood, the kind of friend with whom I can have those aforementioned long and intense idea conversations. Lucy’s brain — in conversation, or on a screen as a bunch of connected nodes — is a fascinating place to explore.

I enjoy a useful and boundaried piece of tech, but my get-paid daily life under capitalism necessitates too much time on the internet already, so I’m keeping my own brain maps in paper form. 

Besides, I love hand-writing things. It’s something about the slowness, the physical texture and colors, the way I’m not choosing a typeface but writing in a hand that no one can standardize, the direct line from my mind to this piece of exploratory art it represents.

A couple of months ago, before the quick Monday map, I sat down with a larger page and mapped my pre-occupations, sorted (by shape of outline) into Curiosities & Experiments, Passions & Committments, Resonant Work, Places, and Worries. 

Doing this reminded me of some things I wanted to think about in essay form. You’ve seen some of the fruit of that, turned into previous entries in this column

As I’m looking at it right now, it’s reminding me of some worries that haven’t changed, but that I have some new ideas about addressing. This map is nudging me, from way back in October: it’s time to take action. 

It’s also, from the entry “gardening” (an Experiment), sub-entry “broccoli” (again!), reminding me to get outside and bring in the harvest.**** Literally this time. 

*I still have the “think like da Vinci” book, I’ve read it more than once, and there was a period where I worked very seriously through most of the exercises. (Probably the same period I learned to mind-map; that’s at least one of the exercises.) The title maybe hasn’t aged well out of 1996, but I hereby profess to you my earnest and unironic appreciation for this book. I should probably read it again to see if I still also love it and/or find it useful.

** “Florilegia is a practice of reading and pondering, of conversing with literature by pulling out the phrases that “sparkle,” removing them from their original context into a new one. Fresh meaning may be discovered in this aggregation of sparklets, their conversation with each other. In new context they may generate new ideas, create questions or beauties or conundrums.” Source: 

***I believe I got the idea for seasonal maps from Sharon Blackie, who thinks and teaches about modern myth and its intersection with ecology.

****Yes! It’s January! The broccoli plants I put in as starts in July are still going. 

Conversation, Walks, and Collaborative Projects

FraidyCat is a freelance writer who works on the blog FraidyCat Finance with her partner, Mr. Blue Sky. 

Every day since mid-March, my partner and I have taken a walk, sometimes two. Our neighborhood is pretty well-laid-out for it, and very few other people walk so we didn’t worry too much about virus spread in that way. We’ve practically worn a rut through the cracked sidewalks and backwoods trails behind the nearby park.

Before COVID-19, our conversations often revolved around work, what he was doing and what I was doing, and household management: when would groceries be bought, who was coming to visit this week, what needed to be cleaned. We also talked about other things, podcasts we enjoyed and such, but it was never enough, him being pretty concise and quiet, to fill seven-to-ten 45-minute walks a week. 

At some point, I came up with the idea for a blog. This isn’t unusual, since ideas for things pop up all the time. But this one had a kernel of utility for me: it’d be a blog about us, specifically about how my partner was willing to dive into aspects of personal finance, and how I was always dragging my feet and deeply risk-averse. 

He’s not a writer, but he does like talking about what he’s learned lately about dollar-cost averaging or donor-advised funds and anything else financially interesting. I pitched him, a freelance writer at my heart, on the idea of me writing a blog that was based on our conversations.

At first, he was unsure, but I reassured him that he wouldn’t have to do 50 percent of the writing. What he’d have to do, though, was research with me: rather than just idly scrolling through the internet feeds on our phones, we’d need to follow our curiosity on personal finance topics more deliberately. He’d report back to me about what he found.

I was not all that interested in launching the blog — I’ve always struggled with committing to projects — but we spent the first two months of the pandemic chatting about what the blog would be like. I would draft up a post and he’d read it when he had the time, and when we were walking, I’d interview him more officially about decisions like why and how we bought our house and why he invests for retirement the way he does.

It was really fun. I didn’t see it going anywhere — nothing in our experience is unique in the wide, wide world of personal finance blogging — but just pretending we were going to launch the site made me look forward to our walks more. It felt like we were getting deeper into our own decision-making process, the household management talks we’d always had, but also coming up with new ideas, feeling more invigorated. It was nice to have something new to think of amidst a lot of sad, difficult news that 2020 brought.

I sometimes wonder what holds couples and very close friends together long-term. Is it inertia, proximity, or actual shared interests? My partner and I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests other than personal finance, so when our social circles and outside-the-home activities shrank, it made sense to drum up some serious shared-project energy.

I don’t know if this is the kind of project that I would have made enough headway on in a non-2020 year to actually launch the site, but in November, I decided to go ahead and launch, since that would push me out of a slump I’d been in about the project and hopefully get me excited again. It worked. In addition to the fun of talking to my partner to brainstorm, I was now able to comment and connect to other bloggers. It was a well-timed infusion of excitement, when the weather was turning nasty and I wasn’t likely to be walking as much.

As the walking aspect faded, since we’re indoors more, I still keep an eye on the weather and try to get us out for a quick stroll somewhere any time the temperature breaks 50 degrees at the warmest part of the day. But we’re in a rhythm as well: talking about personal finance as a subject of study and consideration has become part of our lexicon as we clean the kitchen and cook meals and wrap presents. 

As a writer, I tend to find the process of creation pretty lonely; only one or two times in my life have I felt truly in sync with a collaborator in creative harmony and productivity. With this project, however, the lack of expectations for the final product and the overarching goal of mostly just entertaining ourselves on walks and in the daily spaces of conversation has really worked.

I have high hopes that, after only a few years of marriage, we have more projects left in us. I hope that creative collaboration can be a part of romantic love but also of friendship love, and family love in my life. Certainly, people who don’t live in my household might not share the same schedule as me, so they might not be as immersed as we happened to be this year, but I hold out hope for other low-stakes, creativity-focused projects in the future.

The conversations themselves, it turns out, are the most useful output of our efforts; the blog itself is fine but I can’t spend a whole ton of time writing, promoting, or optimizing it, given my other work. What’s most engaging is the habit we built that takes things we already did (write and read) and turned it into prompts for connection (the chats, on walks and at home). I think creativity at its best often works this way: the more questions we ask, the more questions we generate. It’s a beautiful cycle to be in with someone you spend so much time with. 

Virtue(s) and the Creative Life

Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She is also the creator of The PenPal Project, an experiment with community, sustainability, and joy. This is the latest installment in her monthly column about the creative practice.

This morning I took a walk, just a little before full dawn. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this on a different day than I’m writing it. I will likely still have just taken a walk before dawn. I will likely still have made the following request as soon as I could see the open sky: “Patience. Kindness. Courage.” 

For someone who historically wrestles with the very idea of prayer, I’ve taken to this simple practice of it without premeditation. In three words, I remind myself to cultivate three virtues. 

I’ve had an unusually focused, connected, intense, very physically present couple of days. I find this kind of density over time clears the scattered buzzing of the brain more effectively than just about anything else. Two days is only a very little time to experience such density, but it was enough this morning to prompt some curiosity about my daily request.

Patience, Kindness, Courage. Why these three? 

A) I’m not naturally any good at them. 

B) I admire them when I see them at work in other people. Virtues are not personality traits. They’re something you can practice. They’re habits. 

C) Patience, kindness, and courage are my own application of the cardinal Stoic virtues.* I have a long-standing interest in Stoicism — Stoic like the school of philosophy, not stoic like the modern adjective — owing at least partially to my argumentative acquaintanceship with a dead Roman Emperor named Marcus.** 

It’s a Stoic practice to account daily for the ways in which you did or did not follow the cardinal virtues, since that (and not the rest of the world) is what lies within a Stoic’s own ability.

I’ve been realizing lately that the part of my life where I can most clearly observe and cultivate patience, kindness, and courage at work in me is in fact my creative practice. So let’s take these one by one, and maybe we’ll learn something together. 


I usually have at least one creative project going that is meant for my own growth or learning or play — something that stays focused on curiosity and not “work.” All of these projects to date have been designed to last a year. Occasionally that gets to feeling ridiculous, especially when they involve doing literally the same thing every day. 

So far, anyway, there’s always been discernible value in sticking it out. I can’t predict what that value might be, and there are absolutely no shortcuts: time in is the thing. Completing year-long projects is teaching me — is allowing me to practice — patience.

As are the fallow times. Between projects, when I’m tired or sick or too busy, I tend to get anxious. It’s hard to shake that cultural+generational inculcation that we should always be producing. I’m learning, though. Non-linearly, of course; the lesson never endeth. This time last year, I finished a manuscript I was completely in love with, and immediately started panicking in the sudden vacuum. A year later, I’m similarly lacking for active, sustained creative project-work — in the midst of a pandemic, which my country is loudly Not Handling. I’m okay.

I mentioned “time in” a minute ago. This is a key teacher of patience in itself. I’ve learned — by doing — that the words will (probably) come. 

Something similar applies to the specific process of writing a poem. Not poetry. A poem. Sometimes I write ten lines I love, that I know are on fire — and a concluding two lines that are… fine. I go back and I poke at those two lines (and the other ten, for good measure), as long as it takes to light them up, too. Once it took two years. An unknown number of times, it’s never going to happen. “Things take the time they take.”


Two very dear friends of mine have just moved to Canada. (They are married, and one of them is a Canadian citizen — which is why Canada let them in right now.) As one of these friends said the other day, when we sat masked, 10 feet away, and outdoors in 45-degree Fahrenheit sunshine to say goodbye: “I want to live someplace just a little more kind.

I cannot stop thinking about this. It’s never occurred to me that America, as a whole, might not be kind. Nor that we might be; I’ve never thought about it at all. I was born here, I’m a citizen, and I’ve never lived anywhere else longer than a month. Which makes my understanding of our national character subject to a particular sort of innocent insider’s bias. America is… America, and for the first time I’m thinking about what that means in daily practice. 

I’m on a bit of a mission these days to bring more kindness to my own daily living. I can’t change my country wholesale — I ought not to try if I could; I’d surely miss something critical. But I can shift myself. Creative practice is a useful place for an artist to actually do this. 

I started something a couple of months ago called The PenPal Project. It has multiple goals, one of which is community. I know lots of people. I’m also 37, have lived in one metro nearly my whole adult life, and have a decided social point of view. So I want to make sure I have, and contribute to, authentic conversation with a wider circle of folks than I’ve grown used to. 

Whatever you believe, wherever you’re from, and whoever you voted for federally and locally in this last election, I think you and I can exchange mutually interesting letters. I think we have something good to say to each other. I think kindness is based on caring, and caring can be created more easily than you think: by just getting to know folks.


Of the three, courage is the virtue in which I feel most persistently deficient. How we need it, though!  The practice of patience, and the practice of kindness, require also the practice of courage.

In 2015, I decided to do something about my fear of showing my writing to other people. “Fear” is an understatement, actually. I created my first public project, which I called TrailAWeek

The number and quality of lessons that I have learned since then — about writing, about people, about online presence, about the more-than-human-world — is directly the result of gathering the courage to try something that felt, to me-then, strange and audacious. 

And courage, it seems, begets courage. You learn that you will not die of embarrassment. You start to think — especially as your country’s political situation deteriorates — about what you could die for, and what you are learning about whether and how you could meet that. 

To make art is to stand for something. At the least, it commits your time, your talent, your thought and your conversation toward particular projects, which are never just frozen in paper or stone or pixels. They are living, and they are constantly shaping you back. Art narrows the field of possibility that is your public — and increasingly your private — face. It exposes you: to you, and to anyone else. You learn to be ready to meet that exposure. You learn to be curious about the fresh paths it might show you. You learn when fear is useful, and when it will only hold you back. You learn how to stand for other things than art.

My husband and some of my other friends are pretty into Dungeons & Dragons. They introduced me to the prototypical character alignment chart, where one axis is Lawful—Neutral—Chaotic, and the other is Good—Neutral—Evil. So your character can be Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, True Neutral (Neutral/Neutral), etc. Simplistic, right? But this very simplicity is a useful model for extrapolating to the complexities of actual living people, and how and why they choose to do what they do.

We got into a protracted discussion once, in which we argued each other into an understanding that’s become a tenet of my daily life: there is no such thing as True Neutral. Neutral trends Evil. 

What does this mean? Neutrality is the attempt not to take sides in a conflict — ideological or moral or physical or whatever. Rarely is a conflict evenly matched; there is nearly always a more powerful party, perhaps because one person is physically stronger (or more skilled at verbal persuasion). Perhaps one point of view has the law on its side, and the other is fighting for legal recognition. By choosing no side, the neutral party implicitly chooses to aid the side that already has more power. Doing nothing is a vote for the status quo. And the status quo — because power corrupts, and corruption fears justice — trends evil.***

Your job, as an artist, is to resist evil. I realize this is a controversial statement. Remember, I have learned some hills I’m willing to die on, figuratively and also possibly otherwise. Your job, as an artist, is unequivocally to resist evil, and to co-create good. 

Paying attention to the virtues of your regular creative practice is one way to learn how to resist evil and work towards good. Giving some thought to the virtues you want to cultivate****, and how you might practice or explore them in your art, sets you up with solid coordinates. Once you know what those are, you might find they’re far away, over difficult terrain. But you’ve got a map: your art. 

I’ve found that having specific virtues to navigate by gives my art a better chance of spotting neutrality, interrogating its intentions, and bending it toward good. Which teaches me how to pay attention and uplift the good in the rest of my life, too. 

I’m going to mess up, my friends. Maybe every day. Working hard to find a thing does not necessarily deliver it into our hands.

There’s a walk tomorrow morning, though. There’s always the chance to step under the open sky and remind myself: Patience. Kindness. Courage.

*The more usual translation of the cardinal Stoic virtues is Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Moderation. Wisdom and Justice are part and parcel of spending enough time with Patience and Kindness, as far as I’m concerned, and I end up kind of lumping Moderation in with Patience. Translation! It’s neither exact nor simple, between languages or between minds!

**At one point, Marcus references “poetry, and other such lapses of taste,” and it makes me laugh at both of us every time.

***Justice in the deepest sense, which is not to be mistaken for mere adherence to Law.

****They don’t have to be Stoic virutes. Equity is a fine one, for example. Simplicity. Truthfulness. Conscientiousness. Et cetera. You probably already know what you value. If not, ask yourself what you admire, what you wish you could be like. You probably can. 

How YouTube Launched My Creative Career

Ariana Burrell is a writer and poet living in Southern California. When she isn’t writing, you can find her directing plays and spending time in her garden.

I know you read the title of this post. Let me warn you now. I never became YouTube famous or became an influencer. Most of my videos have less than one hundred views. I didn’t build a media empire. You’ve mostly likely never heard of me. However, I did land a few jobs because of my experience making YouTube videos. 

The year is 2008. It was before everyone had smartphones and Wi-Fi internet was slow. I’m obsessed with film and TV but I don’t realize yet that working in entertainment is a real job I could have. I’m in high school and I post unedited clips of outings with my friends to YouTube. I thought it was so cool. 

I’m in college now, studying technical theater and film. I feel inadequate in film school because I don’t know how to edit and I’ve never made a feature film. Everyone in my class has. 

Four years later, I graduate from college and have no idea what the next steps are. How does one start a creative career? I desperately want to make things but am afraid of judgment. My imposter syndrome ran SO high in film school. I have a smartphone with a mediocre camera. Because I want to explore film without anyone else involved, I become my own subject. I turn the camera on myself and start talking… and the videos are terrible. Grainy footage, bad audio, choppy editing. But I keep going. 

Over the next few years I make over 150 videos. I learn to edit and speak confidently to the camera. I start to figure out what I want to make and most importantly what I want to say. 

Through YouTube I meet some amazing people all over the world. I am now active on social media and love that I could connect with anyone. I talk to my favorite authors on Twitter. I make video responses to people. People leave a handful of comments on each video I upload. I feel less alone, a little less lost. I start to feel like maybe my ambitions aren’t too big. 

I attend multiple VidCons (a YouTube convention). I participate in The Bridge Exchange, an exchange program between VidCon and Brave New Voices, the poetry slam convention. Through the exchange I was able to professionally film one of my poems (see below). The Bridge Exchange is the brainchild of rapper/poet George Watsky. Through meeting him, I saw what could be possible in my career. He successfully melded together a career in creating YouTube videos, music, poetry and writing. I fell in love with poetry and I started posting my own poetry online. I even enter the YouTube poetry slam (unaffiliated with YouTube). At the end of one of the poetry slams, a survey is sent out. In the comments section, I offer to help with their social media. Eventually I work for the company that put on the slam. I work as their social media manager and occasional writer for their blog. There was no job posting for a social media manager. 

Through YouTube, I learn about the Geek Girls Pen Pal Club. It’s exactly as it sounds: a pen pal club where you get matched with someone and write each other snail mail. They have message boards and a blog. I write book, film and tv reviews for their blog. Even though this existed mostly online, I did meet several of the woman involved with the pen pal club in person. 

Next I work for a YouTube channel as a ghostwriter, video editor, and social media manager. I am hired because of my experience running my own YouTube channel and the work I did with the YouTube poetry slam. At this job, I write over 100 articles, edit over 300 videos, send out a weekly newsletter and create the company’s instagram page. This job was listed as a part time, 10 hours per week video editing job that turned into a full-time job. My past skills with YouTube allowed me to expand my role at this company and turn it into really meaningful work. 

I know past me has read articles like this one and still wondered HOW someone accomplished this. The short answer is time and reaching out to people. I gave myself permission to start my own YouTube channel. I reached out to people even though I was nervous. I applied to things like The Bridge Exchange even though I didn’t feel qualified enough. This does take courage but it is completely doable. Teenage me posted random clips of her friends on YouTube and many years later, has a creative career that I really love. I don’t know where I would be without YouTube but I know I would have missed out on some really great experiences. All of this happened with fewer than 100 subscribers on my YouTube channel. I am so grateful to YouTube and past me for picking up a camera even though she didn’t feel good enough.