‘The Trick to Being a Writer Is to Occasionally Write Things’

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Hi, I work at Medium. As you may have heard, our editorial team has had an interesting couple of weeks. I’ve watched some of my talented and endlessly wonderful colleagues move on from this company, and that has been hard. Working with them has been an absolute honor.

As for me, I’m sticking around. A couple reasons why: First, I’m excited about our strengthened mission of supporting writers directly. If you have thoughts or ideas on this topic, hit me up and let’s talk. But also—and here is my much more selfish and personal answer—I don’t feel done.

I mean, like, at all. As a staffer here, I’ve been roaming in and around Medium, kind of like a school administrator with a walkie-talkie and comically large key ring. Yes, I’ve helped lots of writers make their stories better—that has been a tremendous joy. But what I’ve done much less of, in this slightly weird metaphor that I’m just gonna go with, is play in the playground of Medium. Have fun. Be weird. Skin my knees and hobble to the nurse’s office. To do that, I need to occasionally write things. (Thanks to Ginny Hogan for this excellent tweet, the headline of this piece.)

I am a writer. I’ve been one for a really long time. But over the past year or so, I haven’t been able to write in any way that has felt good, soulfully good. Sure, there was/is the global pandemic, and I have two young kids to take care of, and I’ve got a bunch of work responsibilities. But it’s been more than this. I’ve had the yips. You know, the “yips” that the smooth-talking Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother refers to when he gets to go to a Victoria’s Secret party and suddenly can’t string together a coherent sentence. (I told you I have two young kids — my pop culture references are extremely dated.)

Maybe it’s had to do with being among the greats here. Medium has some of the best talent around. I think part of it is feeling like I have to be “official.” With everything I’ve written, I’ve wondered, “Should I say that? How will it be interpreted? Ugh, forget it, let me just be a robot instead.” I’ve played it safe. And that hasn’t felt good. It certainly hasn’t felt like me.

My role at Medium is not to be a writer—rather, it’s to support writers. I love this role. But I’ve realized I cannot do this job in a genuine way unless I, too, am doing what you all are doing, sharing snippets of your lives and putting yourself out there and feeling all the sometimes-uncomfortable feelings that come with that. That’s where the magic of Medium is, right? In that space where our words, the ones we might have been afraid to write, matter to somebody else.

One day, when I look back at my career in that “gather ’round, kids” sort of way, I don’t want to think about this experience of being at Medium and realize that I never showed who I am at all. I would be so sad. And so I will play more. Occasionally write things. And do the thing you so bravely do every day, what I will always admire you for. I will hit that publish button.

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Author of Horizontal Parenting: How to Entertain Your Kid While Lying Down (Chronicle Books)

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Michelle Woo

Michelle Woo

Author of Horizontal Parenting: How to Entertain Your Kid While Lying Down (Chronicle Books)

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