What writing is teaching me about being myself

Read time: 3 min.

What I’ve learned from some of my personal experiences finding my identity and calling.

1. Our differences are our strengths

When I was a kid, I always had a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I thought differently than everyone else.

When the teacher would ask a question, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise my hand to answer. Somehow, it seemed like I always took the conversation in a different way than the teacher had planned. I became less confident in my answers over the years, and would just sit back and listen to others answer and wonder why I always thought about the question in a completely different way than everyone else.

It is only in recent years that I have started to speak up again when I think about something differently than everyone else. I am finding that the different answer is sometimes what everyone else was trying to figure out all along.

The more I use my own, unique voice when I write, the more people seem to praise it. If Mark Twain sounded like C.S. Lewis and he sounded like Maya Angelou and she sounded like Flannery O’Connor, we wouldn’t have a need for all these great writers. Everything they had written would be the same. As it stands, they all have different voices and they all write about different things, so we need them all.

Our differences are not our weaknesses. They are our strengths, because they are what everyone around us is missing.

Our differences are what we have to offer others that they don’t already have.

2. Go with the gift

I’ve had a love for writing my entire life and have been told I’m a gifted writer since I was a kid. It’s just a part of me.

Somewhere along the way, I started telling myself it wasn’t a good enough gift. I’ve always had this vague desire to change the world in a big way, but writing has always seemed like a very passive way to do that to me.

One time I was with friends and discussing what career I should choose. The conversation naturally went to writing, and one of my friends looked me dead in the eye. “You have to be a writer,” he said.

I asked him why.

“Because you lit up when you talked about it,” he said.

I wasn’t convinced this was a good enough reason to pursue any career path. My true calling couldn’t possibly be something I loved so much — it would involve sacrifice.

I thought being a teacher seemed like a more noble calling. It was an active way to change the world and serve others. It seemed like the type of job God would approve of. I convinced myself that was what He wanted me to do.

Eventually, I heard someone say your calling is where your gifts, interests, and something the world needs collide. Writing is one of those things for me and I started to see how it could be used to change the world. In an effort to serve God how I thought would be best, I was missing the opportunity He had placed right in front of me through my gift of writing. I look back at that time of my life and laugh at how obvious it should have been.

I knew pursuing writing was the right choice when I was visiting my high school and told one of my old teachers about my decision.

“Ah, yes,” she said. “Go with the gift.”

3. Just tell the truth

The comedian Tim Hawkins once said, “If you want to be a comedian, tell the truth.”

You can make a whole comedy sketch by simply saying what everyone is already thinking.

People gravitate to genuine people. We can get really lost looking for it and often deny it, but we all want truth at the end of the day.

The silly thing is, I always think people will want some put-together, perfected version of myself. I spend so much time crafting an elaborate facade of who I think people will want me to be, only to find the facade becomes a wall between me and them. Every relationship requires tearing down this facade, one truth at a time. Then, the real friendship begins because I am relieved to find they actually wanted the real me all along. The real me doesn’t usually scare people off and, if it does, they aren’t my people.

When I write, sometimes all I’m thinking about is how to impress people with my writing. I want it to be profound and perfectly worded. When this is my motivation, the writing never turns out very good. It’s stiff, stale, and just plain boring. It’s like the phony facade, keeping people from the real me. If I skip the facade and just write down what I really think, it resonates with others and becomes what I actually wanted it to be all along.

If you want to be a writer, tell the truth. The truth always makes the best stories. And everyone knows, truth is stranger than fiction.

Everything I’m learning about being a writer keeps bringing me back to this one truth:

If you want to be a writer, be yourself.

What I learned from interviewing a celebrity

Read time: 3 min.

Advice for journalists and writers I learned from interviewing actor Rudy Pankow.

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at a magazine called Local Life on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (if you’re reading this, I miss you all).

Outer Banks, the Netflix hit show (click here for some background info if you have no idea what I’m talking about), came out a couple months before my internship. It was filmed in South Carolina, so I received an assignment to write a story about the tie between the show and where our magazine was located.

The editor said I could take it any direction I wanted, including interviewing an actor. As big as the show is, it seemed impossible to land an interview with one of them. Still, I decided to go on a quest to track them down.

Against all odds, Rudy Pankow (aka JJ) said yes. Needless to say, I learned a lot from the experience.

Here are 3 essentials for any interview:

© Provided by Netflix

1. Persistence

Getting the interview was a long shot. A very long shot. I felt like a crazy woman, sending an email to ask someone with over 3 million Instagram followers if they would take the time to talk to an intern at a magazine that goes to about 30,000 people.

Rudy’s publicist asked if he would be on the cover, and the answer was no. She asked if he was the first actor we reached out to. Again, no. Then, I accidentally advertised the fact that an intern was going to be doing the writing and interviewing. Three strikes, right?

But then, he said yes.

Never be afraid to ask. You might not get the answer you’re looking for. Then again, you just might get it. If you don’t ask, it’s guaranteed you won’t get a yes. I received a no from the publicists of several other actors, but that didn’t stop me from asking again. All it took was one yes.

Ask. Ask twice. Ask three times.

I’m pretty sure being annoying when it comes to getting interviews is part of the job description for journalists. You can be a little annoying, but be respectful. You’re not entitled to an interview with anyone, but you are always allowed to ask.

2. Preparation

When writing questions for interviews, don’t be skimpy. Write down every question you can think of. I don’t care if “What’s your favorite vegetable?” is the question that comes to mind — write it down. After you finish your master list of questions, refine it to 10 or 15 of the best ones.

List them in order of the most important ones to cover. I’ll explain how to figure out which questions those are in a bit.

Bring the master list with every dumb question you could think of into the interview, too.

My fellow intern (shoutout to Megan who was my copilot in the interview and also did an amazing job illustrating and designing the article) and I ended up getting more time in the interview than we planned for, so we almost ran out of questions. If you ever get extra interview time with a celebrity and run out of questions, grab onto every last second and just ask something. However, coming prepared with plenty of extra questions is always helpful.

On top of that, don’t make assumptions. Be very clear about the time and location of your interview.

In this case, I knew Rudy would be in a different time zone than us, so I asked about his time zone. As it turned out, when Rudy’s publicist told me the time of the interview, she told me the time in my time zone. I assumed she would realize that’s why I asked about the time zone and clarify, but I was wrong. We got on the phone a little later than planned due to this mix up. Thankfully, he was understanding and it turned out okay.

© Provided by Netflix

3. The golden question

The golden question is the question that unlocks the person you’re interviewing. Let me explain.

In the interview, my thinking was that we would take care of business first. So, first on my list were questions about the location where they filmed. This part of the interview felt a little stiff and didn’t flow.

Near the end, I got curious about what an actor must do to prepare for an audition after Rudy said something about auditioning. I went off the question list and asked him about it. He lit up and started explaining the ins and outs of acting — stuff I wouldn’t have even known to ask about. Acting is his expertise. He loved talking about it.

The questions following this one flowed naturally. I realized I should have started with this question, because it put him at ease. Rudy was comfortable and confident talking about acting.

Find whatever it is the person you’re interviewing loves to talk about, and ask them that first.

If they feel confident answering the first question, they’re going to feel more confident talking about things they don’t know as much about later on and the whole interview will run much more smoothly.

Try to figure out what the golden question might be beforehand. If you’re not sure, start the interview with some easier questions and look for rabbit trails. The rabbit trails will usually lead you to the golden question. After that, it’s all about asking follow up questions.

Illustration by Megan Goheen

To read the full Rudy Pankow article, click here.

Know any journalists or writers who need interview advice? Share these!

What Writing is Teaching Me About Vulnerability

Can I tell you a secret?

I call myself a writer, but every time I hit “publish,” I get anxiety — not a very good trait for a writer, I know. It doesn’t matter if it’s this blog that I’m completely in control of or an article I’m submitting to my college’s newspaper or an assignment for a class. I have to have a little fight with fear every time.

The fight goes like this:

My brain says, what are you doing, sending your thoughts out in the world? What if they sound stupid? What if you made mistakes? What if everyone can never look at you the same again because of that dumb paragraph? Who are you to write about something like you know about it? You’re only an amateur. Everyone wants to be a writer, anyways. They could probably say it better. You’re wasting your time. Someone else will write this exact same thing at some point, only better.

I run through the thoughts, carefully weighing each one… and then it’s my turn to make a move.

I hit “publish” in one brave swoop of my index finger.

So far, I have never regretted pushing the button, and you know what? It’s gotten easier each time.

Who I am really meant to be is wrapped up in overcoming my fears.

Confronting the hard things that scare me is the gateway to truly being free and truly being myself.

Good grief, that’s frustrating.

Writing has been one of my strengths for as long as I can remember. Ironically, using this strength requires overcoming one of my greatest weaknesses: the fear of vulnerability. My identity is so tied to my strength of writing that the way I see it is if you judge my writing, you judge me. So, publishing anything I write makes me feel very vulnerable.

Each blog post, article, story, and caption is a chance to present an imperfect idea or write something imperfectly, and send the image of perfection I try so hard to put on toppling down. In reality, I am so far from perfect that I laugh. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying to find my worth in the pursuit of perfecting my performance.

At the end of the day, that’s what it is. A performance.

The real me is very weak and flawed. Very vulnerable. The real me is sometimes afraid and self-absorbed and thinks far too much. The real me cares too much about what people think and takes criticism too seriously. The real me is overwhelmed by how true it seems in my mind that I must perform to earn love. The real me just wants to lay on the floor and do nothing sometimes, because the real me has an overactive mind that never stops spinning with intricate thoughts — both colorful imagination and dark anxiety.

Revealing the real me is the only way to slip from these chains of perfection and performance. Vulnerability , which I am so afraid of, is ironically the key to my freedom.

Writing has taught me that vulnerability takes one step at a time, and it gets easier each time.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post about being vulnerable or an article about a coffee shop — each push of the publish button takes courage. Each time, I feel as if I am stepping further into who I was made to be. Each time, I am reminded that it wasn’t so bad after all.

My words were fine. Maybe, my words were even praised.

And every time, my worth remained the same.

So I will keep putting my words out there. I will let people see the real me, one step at a time, and catch my breath every time as I realize they were not scared away. Just the opposite. They were drawn closer to me because of the vulnerability. They were drawn to the reality of who I am — my humanness.

At the end of the day,

to be vulnerable is to be alive.