The Biggest Obstacle You Need to Overcome as a Writer, With Helen Cassidy Page
I’ve been writing since the early ’70s when I co-wrote my first book with Dr. John Schroeder, a cardiologist at Stanford on heart-healthy eating. Writing about transforming recipes into healthy meals opened up the new world of writing for me. Eventually, I found the courage to try my first love, fiction. I’ve taken many writing classes and honed my craft and in addition to writing, I have an editing business and am a writing coach.
The following is an interview with Helen Cassidy Page
1. How long have you been writing? When did you first find Medium and why’d you choose to join the platform?
I’ve put in my 10,000 hours and more, spending most of my time writing fiction. I’ve been in a wonderful writing group for more than 25 years. We each have a special gift, and I’ve been called the storyteller.
A friend introduced me to Medium in May 2019, and I decided to try it as a way to earn money. That challenge opened up a new stream of writing: the personal essay. I took my writing on the platform very seriously and worked hard to develop a following and make friends with other writers.
While I came for the money, I stay for the writing on the platform and the friends I’ve made here. I will write on Medium whether or not I earn my pittance. I’ve written on other platforms, but Medium is not only user friendly, it gives me an opportunity to reach millions of readers.
2. You’re pretty successful on Medium, just from what I can see, of course. What do you think has helped your writing stand out?
I am surprised that I have consistently earned in the top 7% since I began on the platform. I have over 5k followers, and while I know they don’t all read me regularly, I’m honored that I have reached that many readers.
Two things have fueled the modest success I’ve enjoyed on Medium.
I’ve spent almost fifty years dedicated to writing and reading the best writers in the English language. I’ve wanted to excel at this craft since I first began writing and have been almost obsessive about honing my craft. It matters and it will show.
Second, I kicked imposter syndrome to the curb. I believe a lack of confidence is one of the most difficult barriers for most writers to overcome. It plagued me as it has others until I just said, “No,” to the negativity in my head about the thing I love most in life.
3. You’re 80-years-old, and you talk a lot about how age isn’t a weakness or a limit, but what other limitations in the writing world have you learned to overcome, and how can other writers do the same?
I don’t feel insecure about my age, but I know there is a perception that people my age have lost their mojo. While illness may make that true for some people, illness and infirmity can strike at any age. So being out front about my age and being a little snarky about it allows me to get attention as a novelty. Sort of like, let’s read the poor old dear’s work, it’s amazing she can even turn on her computer, right?
So my sneaky little superpower turns out to be my age, maybe with something to say now and then.
I think the biggest thing to overcome, as I said previously, is dealing with confidence. It’s huge. I finally learned to accept myself as a writer by writing every day and dedicating myself to consistent writing practice. The discipline helped me look at doubt and fear of writing, the ugly voices that tell me I don’t deserve to write or that I’m not good enough, and see them for what they are. Voices. Bullies in my psyche that I can ignore. Very freeing.
4. You don’t really care what you say when you write, as much of us have noticed (and love). Why do you think it’s important that writers say what they mean, and how can they start putting it into practice?
Actually, I care a great deal about what I say and what I write. I want to be taken very seriously and appreciated as a writer, not just seen as this curiosity of an outdated piece of hardware that somehow still turns on if you plug it in.
I discuss the art and craft of writing with some of the best writers I’ve known, the members of my writing group. Some writers on Medium couldn’t keep up with our discussions. If my writing is ever easy to read, it’s not because I write whatever drivel comes into my head, it’s because I’ve worked very hard to make sentences come together in a way that’s easy to read and understand in my one unique way. Like, for 50 years. Every single day. After surgeries, through divorce, disappointment, rejection, and all the slings and arrows we all have to dodge. By writing through it, I’m able to show you who I am.
5. One of my favorite things about your writing is that I just know it’s you. You know your voice. Do you have any tips for a writer who struggles to be themselves on the page?
I think you just said it, be yourself. But also, work on your craft. Be an excellent writer. Work on your sentences, your vocabulary. Read poetry even if you don’t like it because you will learn imagery. Read writers better than you, to study the elements of craft you’re trying to learn.
Show your work to mentors and listen to their advice. Don’t break the rules until you know what they are. The more confident you are about your craft, the more ease you will have when you sit down to write what’s on your mind.
And remember, the negative voices in your head will stay there as long as you listen to them. As soon as you ignore them and do something else, they magically disappear.
6. Do you have a writing routine? Do you have any habits or rules you follow?
When I worked 9–5, I worked at least 15 minutes before work, usually much longer. I wake up early. I still write early in the morning. I work at home and my time is my own, but I am a full-time writer. Depending on my editing schedule, I break up my time according to my client demands. I’m currently sprinting with a writing friend from seven to eight each morning on a “sprint” project, and work on my Medium articles, novel in progress and client editing throughout the day.
7. Who are some of your favorite Medium authors? Who do you enjoy learning from and how do you implement these lessons?
I have many favorites. Carol Piasente, Andrew Jazprose Hill, Charles Hardin. But I also love Sherry McGuinn because she never stops but puts out the most vibrant, energetic writing every single day. I love Agnes Louis, Marguerite Floyd, Jan M Flynn, Felicia C. Sullivan, Simon West, Roy, Kurt Gasbarro, James Knight. I could go on and on. I like them all for different reasons. The diversity in this collection means I get exposed to so many points of view and voices, which is one of the things I like best about Medium. It’s like California weather. If you don’t like what you’re experiencing/reading, move a few miles away and it will be totally different.
8. Do you have any sources or books to study that could help a writer grow their writing? What are some of your favorites?
I used to have a collection I depended on but it’s been so long since I’ve used writing books that my old favorites are out of print. These days, I do close readings of writers I admire to help improve my craft.
10. If you were to write an article with the top 3 tips for a new writer, what would you write?
Write every day. I don’t count journal writing but a piece you consider your “work,” a piece you’d like to publish or develop into an essay or a piece of fiction.
Write at least 15 minutes a day. Do this every day without fail. If you give yourself an excuse to miss a day here and there, you’re giving your brain, your subconscious, a message that you have a weak spot and it will use it to crumble your discipline.
Fifteen minutes is not very much. If you just write a sentence, you are winning the battle of discipline and in time you will be writing as much as you can, as much as you need, every day.
You will learn more than you can imagine from a daily writing practice, including how to overcome doubt, how to maximize your time, and hone your craft.
It’s the best advice I can give a writer.
11. Final question: What’s something you’d wish I’d asked you about, and can you answer that question for us right now?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t write if that is what you want to do. That is your decision. You may not find a publisher for your work, unless you choose to publish it independently. But what you will learn from standing up for your dreams, from persisting in learning your craft, from cooperating with your imagination, your gift for language and storytelling, and your interest in exposition will enrich your life and bring you joy.