“Talking about writing isn’t writing.”
This sentence, spoken from my writing mentor Sister Mara Faulkner, changed my life.
Her simple, yet powerful words didn’t only alter how I write, but how I approach just about every task or project—and dare I say relationship?—since the day she spoke them.
Let me back up and tell you a little more about Sister Mara. She’s an award-winning poet, author and writing instructor, retiring from the college classroom after 30+ years of sharing her wisdom and passion of the written word with backpack-toting college students at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
Now she shares that same passion and wisdom with “mature” folks like me, writers who still write with pens and paper and want to improve their craft. I met Sister Mara when I was just beginning to write my first book, Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage, and signed up for one of her Deep Water Writing Workshops at the St. Benedict’s Monastery Spirituality Center.
Not being raised Catholic, I must admit I was a little intimidated by the whole nun thing. I’d heard the stories of rulers and knuckles. I had no idea what to expect when I drove to the monastery for my first class.
My nerves subsided as Sister Mara, a gracious and humble host, greeted our group of aspiring memoirists, poets, novelists and authors, and slowly began to reveal snippets of her own story. Her childhood. Her career path. Her books and poems. How it feels to slowly go blind. Why she loves to teach creative writing. And the depths a good writer must go to create and deliver quality literature.
I quickly learned that Sister Mara is a fountain of information, sprinkling her knowledge over our class like one of those oscillating lawn sprinklers. Gentle and persistent, allowing enough time between concepts for us to absorb what she was saying.
When she speaks, you want to lean in.
Like a good book, Sister Mara has layers and depth, offering an interesting mix of humility and confidence. Her classes challenging, but never dull. At one point, she shared an analogy that used the word “shit” in it. I’m sure my eyes bugged out of my head as I remember thinking “I don’t think nuns can use that word!”
In our workshop, Sister Mara pushed us. She stretched us. And while she may appear soft-spoken, she doesn’t mess around when it comes to the business of writing. Which brings us back to her statement, “Talking about writing isn’t writing.”
What she was saying to us as we discussed one another’s writing concepts at length was that we’d talked about them enough. We’d strategized enough. We’d outlined enough. We’d practiced and planned enough. It was time to put our heads down and actually do the work. It was time to write!
Her message was crystal clear: you can’t become a better writer if you don’t actually put words on paper.
Likewise, you can’t become a better speaker, or teacher, or baker, or florist by only taking classes on your craft. You actually have to speak and teach and bake and make bouquets!
Reading cookbooks is not baking.
Are you in sales? Then you know you can’t become a successful salesperson by only watching sales videos. You actually have to get out there, meet your prospective customers, and pitch your product or service. Talking about selling isn’t selling.
Talking about what your are going to do is not doing.
Thinking “I need to be a better, more attentive spouse” is not going to get it done. You have to take action and do the work necessary to achieve success, whether in a relationship, skill or vocation.
It is okay to strategize, study, discuss, and prepare. But don’t let those things get in the way of doing the actual work. Knowing your why is important but implementing your how moves the needle!
If you’re a writer, don’t just talk about writing. Write!
If you’re a dog groomer, grab a brush (and a dog).
If you sell insurance, pick up the phone.
If you’re a truck driver, drive a truck.
If you want a better friendship, BE a better friend.
Knowledge is having the facts.
Wisdom is applying the facts to your life.
I hope Sister Mara’s advice inspires you to DO what you are called to do.
Special message to Sister Mara:
If you are reading this, thank you.
Thank you for inspiring me to write and for teaching me about the business of writing.
Thank you for challenging me to dive into the deep water and vulnerability.
Thank you for pushing me through my fear to publish Out to Sea. (If it weren’t for you, I’d still be stuck, debating on whether the timing was right and the content good enough).
Thank you for encouraging me to do the work and for reminding me of my purpose.
Thank you for sharing your expertise, experiences and humor.
Thank you for sharing your life-changing words of wisdom.
“Talking about writing isn’t writing.”
With deep gratitude,