Why it Takes More Than Just Your Mind to be a Writer

    be a writer

    About a year ago, when I finally decided to be a writer and write my first novel, my biggest problem with the writing process wasn’t that I was a bad “proofreader,” or a bad “goal-setter,” or a bad “blog monetizer.” No, my biggest problem with the writing process was… my life.

    About a year ago, I had already come out of the long and arduous process of trying to get into a Graduate School for Creative Writing. After giving my graduate application my all, and after turning it in, a few months later, I received a response in the mail. I unfolded the letter and then folded it back up again as soon as I saw the word: “Unfortunately” in the second sentence.

    About a year ago, I had been let go from my job as an English Tutor because the company I was working for had gone bankrupt after the recession hit. The company loved me, but they could no longer pay me. My mind sort of checked out as soon as my boss shifted the conversation and started with the word: “Unfortunately…”

    About a year ago, I had come out of my fourth failed relationship, and for anyone who has ever had a heart-broken more than once, you’ll agree that a consistently broken heart is a vastly underrated phenomenon. It can get the best of you, if you let it. I think I went into shock when my ex-boyfriend pulled over his car and began to say: “You’re a really great guy, but unfortunately…”

    Finally, a year ago, someone close to me, who I love very dearly, and who I had been taking care of for two years, fell into another bout of her Depression. For those of you who don’t know, Depression takes over the body of the person you love until you find yourself living with the disease itself. Living with Depression is like coming home and discovering a black hole of grief and sorrow greeting you at the door. The best–and only thing–you can do in that situation is to orbit the edge of this black hole, spin frantically like a lesser version of Mars, and try not to be torn out of orbit and swung into the dark abyss.

    That was it. That was the last straw for me. I was no longer in an “unfortunate” situation. I was in a crisis.

    It suddenly occurred to me that I had to become wise, and I had to become wise fast.

    Why? Because I knew that if I didn’t gain the wisdom I needed to survive in that moment, I would end up drowning in my own ignorance.

    Now, the only way I was going to gain that wisdom was to take the steps necessary to vastly transform the way I approached my life.

    These were the necessary steps I took in order to go from being 1/4 of a writer to becoming whole again:

    • I began meeting regularly with a therapist to learn how to deal with my emotions
    • I trained for a 5K to learn how to deal with my body
    • I kept a daily journal to learn how to sort through my heavy thoughts and clear the way for the lightness of my truth
    • I developed a daily meditation routine, hiked in the mountains, and began to pray so that I could learn how to reconnect with the universal, sky-bound spirit that unites us all.
    • Most importantly, I reached out to friends and family, wrapped my arms around them, and allowed myself to burst open with the greasy showers of pain, letting all that was broken slice through me, until the release of life’s vicious shrapnel lubricated my blackened, rusted heart. It was this “reaching-out” that taught me how important it was to be part of a larger community.

    It was all of this work, and this work only, that allowed me to continue my writing, and helped me survive a very challenging year.

    So, Then What Happened?

    Don’t worry. You’ll be happy to know that at the end of that tumultuous year, not only did I finish the first draft of my novel, despite everything that stood in my way, but I wrote a blog chronicling this journey that went on to become one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers.

    Oh, um—what’s the word for when something good happens, unexpectedly?

    Ah, that’s right. Fortunate. Haven’t heard that word in a while. Nice to hear it again.

    What does this have to do with my writing?

    “I’m really happy for you Ollin, but, what’s the point? I mean, what does this story have to do with me being a writer?”

    Fair enough. Here’s the point:

    After everything I went through, the most surprising thing I learned was that being a writer requires MORE than just your mind.

    Why? Because you don’t write with only your mind. You write with your heart. You write with your spirit. You write with your body. You write as a member of a community.

    Now, you can ignore all these aspects of your being, sure, but then you would only be about 1/4th of a writer.

    On the other hand, if, every now and then, you listen to the intelligence of your heart, or to the intelligence of your spirit, or to the intelligence of your body, you might find the solutions to about 75% of your writing problems—problems that your mind told you were impossible to solve.

    This “well-rounded” approach to writing isn’t always easy. I still struggle to master the skill myself

    Take this year for instance. Although the challenges I faced last year are all resolved, this year I am faced with a whole new set of challenges.

    Once again, I am being forced to become wise—fast—or risk drowning in my own ignorance.

    But this is the journey of life and the writing process, isn’t it? Both require that you have infinite patience. Both require that you fall in love with the painfully slow progression of things. Both require that you face a set of problems one year, master them, then face a whole new set of problems the next year, master those, and keep this going until you’re forced to accept the humble truth: that no matter how much you learn, you will, forever and always, be a novice.

    If you want to BE a great writer you need to LIVE a great life

    Let me conclude with this thought:

    You, as a writer, are FAR more complex than your ability to write flawless grammar.

    You, as a writer, have a life to live, and you need to live it well.

    Because when you ignore your life, you become like a concert pianist who has been given the best training in the world, the best piano to play, the best musical score to follow, the best audience to bear witness, but who does not show up to his own concert.

    On the other hand, when you do pay attention to your life, you not only become the artist who shows up, but the human being who relishes his moment in the spotlight.

    much love,


    About the author

      Ollin Morales

      Ollin Morales's blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his very first novel. His blog offers writing tips as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life.

    • Ash Menon says:

      It was a great read, Ollin. I love how you intro-ed by playing on the word “unfortunately”. A well crafted article.

    • Great story, Olin. I didn’t realise you’d had such a turn around. It takes guts and determination to make such a change and stick with it. You’re a treasure. I really appreciate your support and the way you approach your life and your writing.

      • Thank you Tahlia! That was a sweet comment. Yes, this is the first time I have shared the whole story with my readers. Good luck to you!

    • Life is so good at showing us that it’s an “inside job”. Just as you demonstrate consistently on your blog, with professionalism, this article shows who you are. When I read your work, I easily forget that this is not a letter that you have written just to me.

      Thanks for your example, Ollin.

      • Aw, we’ll thank you for being a loyal reader Amy!

        I try my best to give my readers a little something every time I write a post. I’m glad you’ve received the message.

    • Quoc says:

      First time have a Blog.
      It is interesting, informative, and up to date.
      Thanks Morales
      Reading is learning.
      Let write
      Step be step
      Many creative and established bricks
      will become a palace
      write- words by words
      It will be a masterpiece.

      • Thank you!

      • Thank you Quoc. That was a nice little poetic comment you have there. Yes, step by step we’ll make it through. Just be patient!

    • daniellett says:

      I love this post! Although I am not a writer *YET* I feel I can completely apply your ideas of making a 1/4 person whole again to my life today. Thanks for the motivation and best of luck with your writing!

      • Aw Danielle! Thanks!

        I try to make my articles apply to writers and to non writers and one of the reasons I first started to do this was to get my friends to read my posts, lol!

        Danielle you are a truly special friend, and if it wasn’t for you and our group of friends this past year wouldn’t have been as successful as it ended up being.

        Thank you, it really is an honor and a pleasure to be your friend!

    • Kim says:

      Love this post and how you identify these aspects of life as significant to the creative process. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    • Marie says:

      Good suggestion 😉 If only I could quiet my mind long enough to meditate :X

      • Hey Marie!

        If you look up the post entitled “Patience” on my blog you’ll find an easy meditation practice that you can start to utilize. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Mark says:

      Well…maybe this is why I am stalled this year. I believe it is true that we have to not only go “inside” for our healing from life’s stuff, but, as you shared, include our family and close friends in the process. Thanks for baring your soul to us so honestly.

      • Well you’re welcome Mark. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • You’re welcome. Yes, we are all in our own journey.

    • What you said is applicable not only to writing but to a lot of endeavors as well. Great read! Thanks!

    • Susan says:

      I savored this post along with my coffee this morning. The searing note of truth throughout it – how we choose to live our life daily will impact everything we do – is particularly meaningful for me this year as I started running, writing more often, and am nearing my 40th birthday. I no longer worry about the destination. I am deeply grateful for this work and look forward to reading more!


      • You know I have also learned that the more you enjoy the process, the happier you are. If you just focus on the destination you will feel overwhelmed and might feel like giving up.

        Just relish the process and you might find things unfolding all on their own.

    • Beautiful… I like your style and the way you write. I like the following a lot:
      “when you ignore your life, you become like a concert pianist who has been given the best training in the world, the best piano to play, the best musical score to follow, the best audience to bear witness, but who does not show up to his own concert.
      On the other hand, when you do pay attention to your life, you not only become the artist who shows up, but the human being who relishes his moment in the spotlight.”
      Take care and best of luck in everything 🙂

      • Thank you and good luck to you as well!

        Don’t forget to show up to your own concert, today. 😉

    • Linda C. says:

      Best. Post. Ever. Okay, I could be more articulate about it, but it suffices to say that I was touched by such a heartfelt sharing of a very personal journey. I may be biased because I’m your biggest fan, but I’m also a writer/artist on a similar journey, looking for inspiration in every corner. Your shared experience speaks to me like lightning cracking in the middle of a storm.

      much “you inspire me with every word you write,”


      • keshav says:

        I agree. A wonderful post. I still remember the first time I came across ollin’s blog – “Hey. This guy is actually blogging about his journey of writing his first novel. Got to keep in touch with him” . I’ve read his articles since. Thanks Ollin for inspiring us..

      • Thank you! Well you are one of those people I MUST be thankful for and grateful for supporting me and helping guide me through all of that.

        But of course you already know that! 🙂 Love ya!

    • Larry says:

      This piece is so f**king good. It took courage, skill and high art. This is how it’s done. You finish this and you want to change your life, to heed the advice and live a better life. That’s the highest calling of a writer, and in this post, Ollin has answered the call. There’s a reason his award-winning site is called “Courage To Create.”

      • Haha. Thanks Larry!

        You know what’s really trippy? I just found out that the original meaning of courage was: “the heart to tell your story.”

        I seriously did not know that when I made Courage 2 Create my title. But boy did my unconscious know the right word to pick!

    • Feel free to do so! You’re welcome. Good luck to you Lisa!

    • So much of this post hits home for me! I’m at a transition point in my life and writing at the moment, and I think I need to post “f you want to BE a great writer you need to LIVE a great life” all around my house, so that I don’t forget. Thank you for the wisdom and motivation offered with such generosity of spirit.
      ~ Lisa

    • Ollin my dear, as always, you are wise beyond your years. Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom in every way to finally see the “light” and like you, sometimes, you have to lose almost everything, in order to see the meaning of it all. I am in one of those dark moments right now, but reading your post really inspires, and I want to say thank you again, for always being such a great inspiration. A part of me has already told me that I have to lose everything that is familiar to me, and start again. It’s okay, I know this will pass but reading your post made me certain of that 🙂

      • Haha. Alannah as always: my suffering = your wisdom.

        But that’s just it, isn’t. Wisdom comes with a heavy price, and we all must pay it. If I have wisdom beyond my years, maybe it’s because I have suffered beyond my years.

        Going forward though, I’d like to gain my wisdom the easy way. 😉

        Good luck to you Alannah. As you go through this hard time, remember, take care of yourself. ALL of yourself. Take care of your heart, your spirit, your mind, you sense of community. The most important thing you can do is to be gentle on yourself. We tend to think that we should be hard on ourselves, but life will take care of that. It’s your job to be your best friend, your biggest fan, and your #1 believer.

        Much love!

        • Here’s hoping we both become wiser and wiser but without suffering too much. Think we’ve both done our share of that ! Thank you for your kind words. I’m treating myself well at the moment to stay afloat.
          As always, at least rock bottom has inspired a post for my blog for when I get back to posting in a week or two. That’s the writer in us, it takes notes on all our suffering 😉

    • Marci says:

      Ollin, I’m grateful for your journey and your story. It is so true that when I try to write without all of myself present, it doesn’t turn out well.

      And, while I’m a therapist, I have learned so much about myself through the writing process. I’ve learned to let things unfold and not have all the answers. And, I’ve learned that I can be creative, when I’m focused less on the mechanics of writing. When I give it my whole self, then it is so much more rich. In fact, I don’t even try to write for my blog if I’m not up to it that day. Instead, I’d journal or find another way to renew, recharge, or resolve.

      I’ve bookmarked your blog, as it looks great. So many great writers or journeymen out there. 🙂

      • Marci says:

        Your post reminds me of a quote from Natalie Goldberg’s book called Wild Mind:

        “…a writer must be willing to sit at the bottom of the pit, commit herself to stay there, and let all the wild animals approach, even call up them up, then face them, write them down, and not run away.”

        I honestly never knew how much self-growth and writing are connected, but they are, and it is powerful!

        • You know Marci…

          Sharing this story seems to be the end of the full circle of my year of struggle. It is truly the last step of community isn’t it? I went through what I went through, maybe just to learn what I learned and then share it with you–in the hopes that it may make your own journey a little lighter.

          If that is the case, then I am also grateful, and incredibly happy. Good luck to you!

    • Thank you, Ollin, for: “This is the journey of life and the writing process, isn’t it?”

      You’re absolutely right—writers do more than write, they live, and if you write a million words but never fully live a single moment you have discovered nothing worth writing about.

      I’m looking forward to your guest post on my blog about writing community! Community is an amazing thing and very much a huge part of why we all choose this craft.

      • Thank you for your elaboration. That is also true: if you don’t live, not only will you not be ABLE to write, but you won’t have anything to write about. Great point. I look forward to guest posting! Can’t wait.

    • Haha. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • Eric C says:

      Great post. i know that’s a boring comment, but it’s all I think I need to say.

    • You don’t need a degree, you don’t need to be published, and you don’t need others approval to say you are a writer. If you feel it in your heart, then it is true.

      No one can say who you are but you, and your life will only be complete unless you are willing to live that truth every day.

    • Ishan says:

      Ollin, I loved the following:

      You write with your heart. You write with your spirit. You write with your body.

      You made a great point about living a great life. I don’t have a creative writing degree, and I am not even in a creative writing course. But somehow, I have fallen in love with writing and it has changed my life. As a write, you learn many things that otherwise are not that easy to find!
      Thanks for the great post.

    • Dave says:

      I really enjoyed this post Ollin. All the writers I admire are skilled at tapping into their life and laying the results out on the page. I love your inclusion of the heart, spirit, body and community as essential aspects of the writer. A reader brings all these aspects of themselves to whatever they are reading, so it makes sense that we, as writers, should be trying to do the same.

      • Yes. It’s no surprise that Mary and Leo, the creators of this site, are both VERY good at living life. They’re blogs are dedicated to living happy and fulfilling lives, and of course, that’s what makes them GREAT writers.

        Just don’t forget: you’re whole person.

    • Contrarian says:

      Ollin – I’m no expert on writing, but isn’t the story teller supposed to get to the crux of things and make their point early on … and not at the very end? 😉

      The point you made (at the end of your piece) was excellent and worth waiting for: “If you want to BE a great writer you need to LIVE a great life”.

      I paint and it is the same with art. The shallow and empty kitsch devoid of depth and meaning, seems to resemble the shallow life of those who create them. It’s the same with great and profound works of art – these pieces are created out of the artists rich, profound, and fully lived life.

      In painting, the arts, and I suppose other creative endeavors … everything you do is a self portrait.

      – Contrarian

      • Contrarian,

        Haha. Well, one of the things I have been known to say is that you have to “learn the rules in order to break them.”

        Breaking the rules sometimes helps you get the reader’s attention. It looked like it worked because you stayed with it until the very end and commented, right? 😉

        Great point there, yes our art is a reflection of us, but most importantly, our art can only exist unless we address the needs of our person.

        Good luck to you!

    • Will says:

      Thanks for this! I graduated from I.U. with a Creative Writing degree. There was a time when all I would do each day was sit and write (not type — I loved the feeling of writing on paper).

      Since then I’ve lost confidence, as Stuart said. My mind is never clear enough to think straight, let alone get those thoughts/emotions onto paper. I let the worries of life get in the way and am now feeling stuck at a customer service job I hate. Life just seems like a giant black hole now. I’ve never really had much of a network of close friends or family (my own doing of course) and kept in solitude much of the time.

      Sometimes I feel like I’m close to crawling out of it. I recently created an online journal and, while not particularly intended as an emotional release, I’m hoping it will get me started on writing regularly again.

      • You might want to try starting a meditation routine, or try jogging three times a week. You can also write in a journal in the morning, Julia Cameron suggest three pages. All of these exercises help you get through the worries of life so that you can then focus on your writing and get it done.

        And Will, you must know that your community is important. I learned this the hard way. I had to wait until I was broken open to find out that I could not do this alone. None of us can. It is far too challenging. Sometimes we just need support, someone to listen to us, and yes someone to hold us. As cheesy as that sounds.

        We are told we need to be fiercely independent but the beauty of life, my friend, is when you can reach out and feel that connection. It’s such a wonderful feeling.

    • Stuart says:

      Oh, that was good. That was very good indeed.

      One of the biggest problems I face (and I’m sure other writers face) is a lack of confidence. How to write when you don’t want to is hard when you can’t even guarantee people will read it, let alone like it!

      Reading this often will inspire me, motivate me, and maybe cheer me up when I need it. Thanks 🙂

      • Thanks Stuart!

        I completely understand. This is something that I and many of my readers struggle with. I’ll invite you to visit my site {it’s linked to above} and you might find dozens of articles that will help you boost your confidence and stay motivated to write.

        Best luck on your journey!

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