This Blog Post Is a Pep Talk

By Ethan Gilsdorf

When I write for a public venue such as this, I'm often trying to pass along some writerly trick of the trade. My ideas or advice or tips are for your benefit. My audience is you. Whoever you are.

Not this time.

This time, I'm writing as much for my benefit as yours.

See, I've just come from another harrowing session with my therapist. (Not kidding about the therapist. Every self-respecting writer should have one.)

It's post tax time, which for self-employed artists/writers feels like an even better time than New Year's to take stock of one's life and the passing of time. My therapist and I, we talked about my writing career. I detailed the occasional drudgery of cranking out the next piece for publication X or Y or Z. We discussed my anxieties about not advancing in my career, my petty jealousies of other writers, my irrational fears about writing that thing I say I’ve always wanted to write. Let’s call that project “the novel.”

“Ethan, why not just write that novel?” she asked, gently but clearly kicking my butt. “What's keeping you from doing it?”

She was right to ask. What is keeping me from tackling this albatross of a novel that has hung around my neck these past years?

And indeed, there was no good answer. I had nothing for her. Nothing.

As writers, we need to be reminded of why we write. We need to take pleasure in our work as much as it sometimes needs to be work. We need a project --- be it novel, memoir, screenplay, or other –- to fall in love with again. The kind of low-pressure, it’s-OK-if-you-fail, writing for the joy of writing project.

At least, that’s what I need. It's a lesson I find myself needing to learn again and again, especially as GrubStreet's Muse and the Marketplace conference rolls around this time of year.

I need to get back to writing not just the umpteenth newspaper or magazine story, review or essay, but also the work that reminds me of why I got into this art and craft and business and heartache to begin with.

To carve out that 20 minutes a day, or hour each night or weekend, to get a few more chunks of my story out of my head and onto the page. The story that will die inside of me, inside my brain-soul, if I don’t exorcise it and get it done and set it into the cement of the written word.

Rather than it always remaining as abstract hopes and dreams of perfect pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows. Which, as we all know, is the place where good writing goes to die.

Hence, why this blog is a pep talk. A kick in the butt, for me, but perhaps also for you, too.

Will you make a pact with me? Let’s get it done. Please comment below and pass along your secrets, your tricks, your successes, and your stupendous failures.

Now get out there --- I mean, stay in there --- and write.

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About the Author

A GrubStreet instructor since 2005, Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, essayist, critic, poet, teacher, performer and nerd. He is the author of the travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. His essay "The Day My Mother Became a Stranger" was cited in the anthology Best American Essays 2016. His fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse, The North American Review, The Massachusetts Review, New York Quarterly and dozens of other literary magazines and in several anthologies, and he is the winner of the Hobblestock Peace Poetry Competition and the Esme Bradberry Contemporary Poets Prize. Gilsdorf got his start in journalism as a Paris-based travel writer and food and film critic for Time Out, Fodor's and the Washington Post. He has published hundreds of feature stories, essays, op-eds and reviews about the arts, pop, gaming and geek culture; and media and technology, and travel, in dozens of other publications worldwide including the New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Wired, Salon, WBUR's The Artery and Cognoscenti, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Art New England. A regular presenter, performer, and event moderator, he frequently appears on programs such as NPR, The Discovery Channel, PBS, CBC, BBC, and the Learning Channel, and also lectures at schools, universities, festivals, conventions, and conferences worldwide, including at this TEDx event, where he nerded out about D&D. Gilsdorf is co-founder of GrubStreet's Young Adult Writers Program (YAWP), and teaches creative writing at GrubStreet, where he served on the Board of Directors for 10 years. He teaches essay, memoir, journalism and other workshops, and is also the instructor of GrubStreet's 8-month Essay Incubator program and serves as coordinator of GrubStreet's Providence program. He’s also the lead instructor for the Westerly (RI) Memoir Project. He has led writing workshops for non-profit social justice organizations and also teaches writing and Dungeons & Dragons classes for younger students, in schools, libraries and community centers. He had also served on the Boston Book Festival Program Committee and as a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He received his BA from Hampshire College, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Follow Ethan’s adventures at or Twitter @ethanfreak, and read his posts on Grub's blog, GrubWrites.

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by Ethan Gilsdorf


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