Lessons I've Learned From Writers
Written by
nicole meier
October 2014
Written by
nicole meier
October 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting a favorite author (yes, I have lots) and hear her speak to a small group of women. The speech was quite touching – we laughed, we cried and we bonded as a group that afternoon.

My twenty-something niece was also in the audience that day. Afterwards, I chastised my niece for what looked like texting throughout the entire talk. Typical of that age, I wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed she didn’t glean any insight from the author. To my delight, she showed me she hadn’t been texting but rather taking notes instead. “Good girl!” I praised her. I wish I had been that wise in my twenties. But now, as an adult and a writer, I take copious notes wherever I go - especially if I’m in the presence of an author.

The notes I’ve collected from meeting/interviewing/listening to other authors have become bits of wisdom not only for my writing life but also simply for my daily life.

I thought I’d share some of these bits of wisdom with you:

Lisa See (author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, China Dolls, and more): I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. See speak a couple of years ago at a writer’s conference. I am a huge fan and was so pleased to discover that she was kind and generous with her time and advice. These words stuck with me.

“Write one charming note a day.”

Sounds difficult and time consuming. And I admit, I don’t write one every day. However, when I do reach out with a quick email or tweet praising another’s work or expressing gratitude, it ALWAYS comes back to me in a positive way. This is a great practice and I can’t stress it enough, whatever your profession. Because of this, strangers have offered to help me, share my writing and support me in ways that I could have never before imagined.

Lian Dolan (author of Helen of Pasadena, Elizabeth the First Wife): This charming, witty woman is one of the Satellite Sisters, has toured with Oprah, written many a funny piece and is the kind of gal we all want to be friends with!

“You don’t have to be an expert in everything, just be an expert in what you know.”

So true. We try too much these days to be a mother, wife, sister, professional, and regular know-it-all. No one is asking us to be this kind of person. It’s better to do what we know well and the rest will follow.

Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild): After hearing her speak in Bend last year, I wrote a blog post here about all of the lessons I gleaned. Here's a standout.

“It’s about the journey, not the trip.”

We’ve all heard this cliché before but that’s because it holds so much truth. In Cheryl’s case, she needed to walk into the desert in order to recalibrate after the death of her mother. She talks about how the challenge of carrying her ultra heavy backpack was also about carrying her burden of grief and pain. As her journey went on, her load lightened. Once she got out of her own environment and gained a new perspective, her burden lifted.

Jess Walter (author of Beautiful Ruins): I met Jess last week and was pleased to discover that he was as equally charming as his book. He had great advice for writers, but it also applies to daily life.

“Be patient. Be bold. Be humble. Be confident. Don’t give in to the speed and surface banality of the culture. Don’t give in to jealousy, commerce, or fear. Do charity work, or coach kids, or be a Big Brother or Sister, or something. Whatever it takes to get out of your own head and avoid authorial narcissism. And whatever you do, don’t ever take advice from authors.”

Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of many novels including The Deep End of the Ocean): I heard this funny, engaging woman speak at a writer’s conference in New York last summer. I was instantly enamored.

“Understand human nature, why people do what they do, what frightens them…”

She was speaking of character development in regards to novel writing. However, this is useful in all aspects of life. We can better relate to others (in the workplace, at school, at home) if we try to understand them first. It really works.

Janice Macleod (author of Paris Letters): I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice after she published her memoir on how she literally sold everything and moved to France to seek out happiness. She shared her brave story with me here.

“If I had one piece of advice for anyone who wanted to redesign their life, I would tell them to start keeping a daily journal.”

Janice goes on to explain, “Journal writing was the most helpful task throughout the entire process. I wrote three pages a day about anything and everything. At first, I just offloaded a lot of grievances about my job. I got so frustrated with this that, about a month into my daily journal writing project, I wrote down a startling question that changed my life: How much money does it take to quit your job? And that’s when the journal writing really took off. I was fired up to find with ways I could save up the cash to quit that job. I used my journal as a daily brainstorming session to come up with ideas on how to bank cash. Eventually, I started writing down travel ideas.”

Who have you learned from lately? Will you write them a charming note and thank them? I would.

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