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.

How to find story ideas anywhere: Savannah edition

Read time: 4 min.

Get inspired to write with writing prompts from the dreamy city of Savannah, Georgia.

When I get stumped on what to write about, there is no better way to get the wheels of my imagination turning than to visit a new place.

Wandering around new sights, smells, and sounds whisks me away to distant lands where anything is possible. People watching triggers ideas for new characters I want to meet. Interactions I watch inspire new plots. Observations I make fill me with insatiable curiosity about the world around me.

This summer, I found myself at an internship located about 50 minutes from Savannah, Georgia. Thankfully, one of the closest airports was in Savannah so I was able to make several visits. This dreamy city enamored me with its old European feel, whispering story ideas at every corner.

But how do I know if there is a story idea in something I notice? It’s simple. I pay attention to the things that make me ask questions. Where there is a question, there is a story idea.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Scroll through some of the things I noticed to get your imagination running:

The Paris Market

This place alone is enchanting enough to inspire a thousand stories. It’s a wonder room of captivating products, with a little café to boot. Perfume, jewelry, magazines, journals, home décor, and so many other goods that feel as if they’re from the other side of the world dance around the store in ever-changing creative displays.   

Prompt: Who wrote these magazines? Write about a new editor, running to these shelves to pick up her very first issue with a beaming look on her face. What will she do next?

Prompt: Who made this display? Who designs all the displays in the store? I want to meet them. Talk to them and write an article for me.

Prompt: Tell me about a dinner around this table. Who was there? What was served? Did a tall guest bump his head on the chandelier? Did a fight leave those beautiful dishes in shambles?

Prompt: Who do these photos belong to? Why did they take them out again? Are they trying to solve the mystery of their mother who they never met? Is it an old man, reminiscing on the golden days of the past? While you’re at it, give me all the juicy details on that letter in the pile.

Prompt: How is perfume even made? Who chooses the bottles and names? Sounds like a dream job. Research this and fill me in.

Prompt: Where are these shells from? I’m not sure if they stole them from a mermaid or what, but I’d like to read the story of how they got here.

River Street

This cobblestone street lining the Savannah River is where all the action happens. You can weave in and out of shops filled with exciting goods and tasty snacks, between street performers and endless photo ops.

Prompt: What if something happened under this charming, yellow umbrella? I’d like to read about someone storming up those steps under the string lights, too.

Prompt: A short story about shoes, from the perspective of this street. Does it have a favorite brand?

Prompt: Technically not right on River Street, but close enough. I absolutely have to know about this moped. Who owns it and where do they like to ride it? Find them and interview them, or write a fiction story about who you imagine they are. I don’t care which option you go with, but I have to know.

Prompt: Write about the two kids I can imagine living in apartments right next to each other at the very top of this building. Do they communicate with tin can phones? I’d say so.

Prompt: This is Savannah’s Candy Kitchen and it’s probably best to write about it with a praline in hand. I’m curious about what goes into making a praline. Now that I think about it, what are pralines? Or, take a story about this candy store more in the imaginative direction of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Prompt: Is this place even real? It’s like what the Mad Hatter went on to do after all the stories from Alice in Wonderland. There are too many directions you could take this idea, so I won’t limit your imagination by giving you a specific prompt.

Prompt: This view from River Street. Describe it to a blind person. How does it make you feel? What might you hear or smell when looking at it?

The Coffee Fox

The quirky décor at this coffee shop was as wonderful as the food and drinks it served. It’s the perfect setting for every kind of character you can imagine, all with only one thing in common: the place they go to get their morning coffee. As a side note, if you ever visit, it’s an absolute must to try the cranberry orange muffin.

Prompt: You know that rhyme from when you were a kid, The Muffin Man? What is that all about? Where is Drury Lane?

Toasted Barrel

This restaurant was seriously beautiful. The tasteful décor is the backdrop of a simple menu of — get this — grilled cheeses. They have every kind you could imagine. I love the dynamic between the sophisticated décor and the playful menu.

Prompt: This grilled cheese was so good, it doesn’t need to be written about. Go reward yourself with a snack break.

Wormsloe Historic Site

This avenue lined in oaks dripping with Spanish moss is mesmerizing, to say the least. I could spend all day walking up and down it. They filmed a scene of the Nicholas Sparks’ movie, The Last Song, here. Centuries of history live on this avenue. There are few places so perfect to daydream about story ideas.

Prompt: Tell me about the person who lives at the end of this driveway. Is it an old lady who never makes it out of the house, which is rumored to be haunted? Or, is it a giant family with four kids who won’t stop climbing on the trees?

Whether you choose to use one or all of these prompts, I hope I sparked your imagination with this dreamy city. Savannah is filled with ideas, but so is the city you live in. There are endless story ideas all around us.

You just have to know how to look.

The ideas are in the questions.

Know anyone else who could use some inspiration to kickstart their writing? Share these!

The Good News

I once heard someone say that unbelievers will recognize Christ followers and be drawn to Him by our joy, kindness, goodness, and selflessness. In seasons of anxiety or depression or difficult situations, I’ve found myself confused and thinking there has to be more to it than that.

There have been times when embodying these trademarks of being a Christ follower felt like pulling myself up by my own bootstraps and scraping up the very last ounce of joy or kindness or goodness or selflessness I could possibly find within myself, or manufacturing it in a way that felt so wrong and inauthentic when I couldn’t find it. Many people who do not call themselves Christ followers seem to have all those traits and, oftentimes, represent them much better than me and my fellow believers.

In light of all that, what distinguishes us as Christ followers? How will people know we know Him?

The answer finally hit me.

It is not our joy or our kindness or goodness or selflessness that makes us who we are as Christ followers. Just the opposite — it is our brokenness. Our doubts, mistakes, insecurities, and shame.

How can we, who are so broken and imperfect and messy, possibly call ourselves Christ followers? THAT is the gospel. The good news. We are so broken and yet so wanted and accepted by Him.

It takes full admittance of how selfish and unkind and messed up we really are to see how much we really need God.

Knowing we can be fully broken and fully loved by Him is what distinguishes us.

When we truly believe, in our cores, how loved we are by Him in spite of every messy moment of our lives, then we let Him closer to us. The closer we let Him get to us, the more we are empowered to be joyful and kind and all the good things (because it’s Him, not us). His love changes us from the inside out.

But the good traits? They’re not the point. They’re the side effects of being close to Him.

The point is the brokenness.

There is no true love unless the one who loves has seen your brokenness in its fullness. He is love itself and can only offer true love, so the brokenness is an essential part of it all. A love like that is why we call ourselves His. A love like that is why we follow Him.

How will people know we follow Him and be drawn to Him?

In our brokenness, we heard of a love like this, offered free of conditions, and we couldn’t help but come running to the One who offered it.

Let us boast of our weakness, for it is our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Let us be known by our brokenness.

Maypop: A Whimsical Coffee Shop in a Greenhouse

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Located in St. Louis, Missouri, Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop is a little hideaway on the outskirts of the city straight from the pages of a fairytale book.

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The old brick house, where the baristas work their magic, is charming in its own way. It’s filled with nooks to test out until you find your favorite spot to cozy up with a book. A menu full of coffee drinks and teas ensures you’ll get your beverage fix while you’re there.

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After stopping by the house to order your usual, you can pass through the backyard and shortly emerge from a frigid Midwest day to a tropical forest trapped in a room.

Stepping into the greenhouse feels like entering a secret world.

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Tables and chairs in the greenhouse are all set for those who want to enjoy their drink among the botanical wonders. Hanging planters and enchanting string lights lace the ceiling above.

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The greenhouse is brimming with life in every shade of green. You’ll find trees with fairy lights, palm leaves overhead, and potted plants of all kinds — each with a personality of its own, like the cheerful lemon tree in the corner.

Soft chatter echoes through the room, along with the stream of a watering can.

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Choose your favorite plant as a souvenir.

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You’ll find delicate, painted pottery strewn about to keep it in.

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The do-it-yourself terrarium bar is another option to take a little piece of the wonder home.

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To make it a day trip, if you live in the Midwest like me, head to The Book House nearby.

Messy stacks of every genre litter the floors and the shelves are so tall you’ll need a ladder. This Beauty and the Beast experience is the perfect way to cap off a day at the greenhouse coffee shop.

You’ll be telling stories all the way home.

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.