extraordinary writing
On Writing

What You Can Expect

extraordinary writing

An Invitation and a Caveat

After reading this (and please feel free to comment) if this kind of stuff isn’t your cup of tea, let’s part company as friends. If, however, this strikes a chord, stay awhile and let’s see what develops.

When I was ten I wanted to be an archaeologist. I’m not sure if it was the idea of climbing through ancient ruins or the thought of making a world-shaking discovery that became my carrot; whichever it was, it didn’t happen. Instead I fell in love with words and went on to become a writer.

Over the years, I researched and wrote about whatever caught my fancy – from  astronomy and aerospace to genealogy and technology. After a time, though, I realized that the things I loved writing about the most centered around the past. Few things gave me as much joy as writing about the places that witnessed the great events of history:  the spot where Crazy Horse rode into captivity, the chamber where Franklin and Adams turned the world on its ear, or the southwestern pueblo Coronado visited five hundred years before I walked the same ground.

At first, I wrote for magazines – small trades mostly, until  I built enough of a portfolio to sell to nationals. For a few years I wrote steadily for Astronomy magazine and then later became a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine. During that same period I sold photos to accompany several articles, including a favorite I shot of an annular eclipse while standing knee-deep in the Pacific.

At some point – strangely I can’t remember when – I focused on business writing. I wrote for  corporations, higher education, medicine, aerospace, and even a military service academy. I became adept at writing web copy and analyzing websites to find flaws in conversion and marketability.

A Life, Changed

Then, something happened. I read a blog post by a novelist who confessed that writing no longer gave him joy. I spent most of the day thinking about the post, pondering all of the “stuff” about my own writing that had been simmering below the surface. That evening it  came bubbling out in a wash of clarity

I realized – just like the novelist – that writing no longer gave me joy. In fact, if you had  asked me on that very day how I liked being a writer, I would have answered “it’s just a job”. Sometime in the last ten years I had stopped loving what I do – and that’s about as soul-sucking as it gets. No wonder I couldn’t remember the last time I jumped out of bed, eager to get into my day.
[Tweet “Why writing no longer gave me joy.”]
That same night I must have dreamt about the novelist because I woke up pre-dawn, wondering what had become of my passion. The answer was simple – business writing didn’t feed my creativity and now, all these years later, I wondered if I was even capable of writing a beautiful sentence.

It was in that moment that I made a decision. No longer would I seek out work that I didn’t believe in; instead I would go back to my roots and write as beautifully as I could; the craft would become my guide. And, I would do my best to write about my passions – travel and history.

I don’t profess to know much about extraordinary writing, but I know it when I see it – and I know that years ago I wrote a handful of articles that were so good I could hardly sit still. I want to feel that way again and I invite you to join me.


Image courtesy Anita Ritenour


  • Joshua

    Thanks for this beautifully written post. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Like you, I’ve fallen into a bad habit of “just writing” instead of writing with a sense of mindfulness.

  • Jessica Macbeth

    There must be something in the air, in the stars, in the water. I feel like I’ve been sleepwalking for years. In my case, illness brought it on–my energy plummeted and then stayed down. But something is finally re-awakening. I’ve been reading things that excite me. The other day I wrote:

    Here I am this morning:
    reading Mary Oliver,
    having fits of ecstasy
    at the beauty on the page —

    and feeling that
    I have wasted my life.
    I am 75 and *still*
    cannot write so exquisitely!

    And *then* I went on to write something I actually like, that gave me joy. And then I hid it in the depths of my computer. I don’t know where this is going, but I thank you so much, Nancy, for the invitation to share our journeys with you and others. I’m excited about this.

  • thewriter

    Jessica – I so appreciate your comment and your journey. Just happy that we’re exploring the depths of beautiful writing at the same time – and together 🙂

  • OkeWriter

    Your post has made me think carefully. I am also trying to make a living writing, and I realised after reading your post that I have become so focused on producing articles ‘to order’ that I have also stopped enjoying writing. So I’m going to spend some time thinking about how I can change this. Hopefully soon I will have something to share

  • Isa

    Once Up On Time, or perhaps it was just pretend. Sometimes pretending makes it so. Pretend with me – once we were all there, all of us, even you.

  • kevin

    this is the first sentence in a piece I am writing for a contest I want to enter….what do you think? be brutal and honest if necessary…

    “I almost got hung for stealing a horse.”

  • Elisabeth Casavant

    Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your reflections about your life as a writer. I appreciate the personal touch that you gave to this post. I look forward to read further posts from you as well as exchange ideas and thoughts on the art of writing.

  • Mary Miller

    Hi Love,
    I would love to join you on this journey, if I may. As a Dyslexic, often times, I get lost just trying to get the words I hear in my head down on paper, without loosing the continuity or flavor…can have some of the flavor, but certainly still feels like I *miss* the tenor of what I feel, if this makes any sense. Thanks for the invitation and to Jesa for publishing this on Facebook for me to find you.

  • thewriter

    Mary – I’m so happy that you found your way here. Serendipity.

    I think that losing flavor or continuity would be difficult – especially if you can hear the words in your head. Hope to see your work here soon.


  • thewriter

    Hi Elisabeth – I, too, look forward to exchanging ideas about the art of writing. I think we all get pushed so much towards commercial success that we lose sight of how much we really love the words.


  • thewriter

    Kevin – being brutually honest 🙂 Your first line makes me wonder if you’re writing a western . . . and what happened that you DIDN’T get hung!

    I think as long as the reader has questions and wants to know “what happens next”, you’re in good shape.


  • thewriter

    Isa, I still start some of my stories with “once upon a time”. I think it must be embedded somewhere in our psyches!


  • thewriter

    OkeWriter – Thank you for posting this. Those of us who make a living writing really HAVE to keep a balance between “just work” and “love of words”. I look forward to your thoughts – don’t hesitate to contact me.


  • mand

    Same happened to me. The thing I wanted to be when I was eight, though, was a writer. Y’know how if you are writer, you never can be not-writer? Well, I stopped being at the age of 42.

    I’ve had “fallow periods” over the years (hate the word “block”!) but this was completely different. No fear that it may never come back, not even any interest in wondering why it happened. It took me maybe six months to realise and then I just walked away from everything (published poetry and an article, completed novel, professional online presence, ever-growing online writerly network…) without looking back.

    Still haven’t looked back. Still no sense of can’t-not. About anything. It appears I’m content without a Life Purpose, without a This Is What I Am.

    It’s odd when I do think of it. But I don’t think about it much! You see why I won’t be joining in your aim of writing the beautiful and extraordinary; but don’t worry about me. 🙂 I’ll be reading to find out whether this hiatus/ending(?) matters or not, and whether there’s some other What I Am for me.

  • thewriter

    Thank you for taking the time to leave your story. In a way I envy your “walking away” without looking back. Some days it’s tempting but until I know which direction to head, I’ll probably just try to make sense of it all. You’re brave – that’s for certain – and I hope to hear what other “am” you discover.


  • mand

    Well Nancy, I’ve done far braver things than this. I wasn’t making my living from the writing so it wasn’t all that difficult to walk away. In fact I had no say, it was such hard work doing any writing. I still attend the local group but only with (very) old work that hasn’t seen the light of day!

    Could be several years before I Am something else. In theory it could be the visual arts, or something like counselling which I suppose is still word- and expression-based. Or it could be nothing at all – as non-vocation-driven people are, I hear… 😉 I’m ever so lucky not to have any anxiety or impatience around it!

  • Ann Christensen

    Nancy, Your words are very timely. I too have made some major life decisions. In the words of Jack Dobson in the movie “The Titanic”, Here’s to making it count!
    I am deciding on which ebook to focus on next and hope to use your website as a place to share. Thanks so much!

  • Nancy


    I am going through such self-examination over this issue. I really don’t want to continue writing about things that don’t matter. How does a working writer balance that with actually “working”?? Love to hear about your next ebook – and yes, please do share!

  • ereksiyon hap?

    Thanks for this beautifully written post. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Like you, I’ve fallen into a bad habit of “just writing” instead of writing with a sense of mindfulness. 🙂

  • Venus review

    Thank you for posting this. Those of us who make a living writing really HAVE to keep a balance between “just work” and “love of words”

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