The Single Most Effective Way to Survive (and Thrive) Your Early Years as a Writer

Mindy McHorse

I still remember the laughter of those portly German farmers.

My mouth was on fire and tears streamed down my face as they raised their beer steins and heartily guffawed.

It was part communication breakdown and part cultural misunderstanding. As a 16-year-old exchange student in Bavaria, I’d set out to spend a year learning about a new culture with the hopes of perfecting my German-speaking skills.

My host parents had taken me to a traditional village feast down the road from their sheep farm. On the table was a lavish spread of roast and Spätzle noodles, white sausage, Bavarian blue mould cheese, white cabbage salad, and semmelknödel (tennis ball-sized, fluffy, beige spheres made of breadcrumbs, eggs, onions, and milk — delicious!).

Also on the table were various spreads, including sweet mustard and a white, creamy sauce.

I put a large dollop of the white sauce on my plate. Once settled at the table, I smeared some on my sausage.

“Ach, nein!” called out my host mother. “Dass Essen ist würzig!” At my blank expression, she frowned. Then her face lit up with the right word.

“Spicy! That is spicy!” she warned me in her accented English, a concerned expression on her face.

“Oh, that’s no problem!” I said, waving my hand. “I’m from New Mexico. We eat spicy food all the time.” And we did. I’d become quite a green chile fan in my teen years.

What I didn’t realize was how vastly different green chile and horseradish are in their spiciness. Chiles burn the tongue but ease up quickly so you can savor the flavor. Horseradish burns way on up into your nose and sinuses, and if you take a massive heaping like I did, it doesn’t let up for days. (Or at least, that’s what it felt like.)

So the Bavarians laughed. I cried. And it became one of my host parents’ favorite stories to share at gatherings.

I knew going into my year as an exchange student that I’d encounter cultural differences and get exposed to new things. I knew I’d be challenged and even confused at times.

What I hadn’t realized is just how hard it would be a third of the way through the year. By October, I’d been away from my family and friends for three months (and this was before FaceTime and cell phones, so it was doubly tough!). I didn’t speak the language well. The weather was bleak and cold.

And I still had nine months to go, which felt like an eternity at the time.

The only thing that got me through was my group of fellow exchange students. There were about 30 of us, all in the same program. We’d traveled over to Europe together before spreading out across Germany. But we came back together again every two months for three-day-long seminars on all things German.

That group became my anchor, my life support.

When things got hard, the group served as a “pick-me-up.” We all benefited from shared experiences. We cheered each other on when homesickness set in. And when we completed our goal of a full year abroad, we celebrated together.

Not quite two decades later, many of us remain good friends.

The writer’s life can feel much like a year in a foreign country, especially at the start. It’s a new world with possibilities vastly different from what you may have grown up thinking about. There’s no single path to success and enjoyment, but rather many with surprising twists and turns — some challenging, some exciting.

The only things that will remain the same throughout your pursuit of a paid writing career are the relationships you make while you’re on this path. Nobody else can understand this world better than a fellow writer, and it’s from fellow writers that you’ll get the best advice and most loyal support.

I urge you to reach out now in any way you can to other writers. Don’t make the mistake I initially did as a young writer and worry they’re your competition — hardly! They’re your friends. Your allies.

You can find fellow writers in local writing groups, at live events like Bootcamp, or online in the various AWAI Facebook groups like Barefoot Writer, Online Copywriters, and B2B Writing Success. (What’s your experience connecting with other writers? Please share below.)

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: March 22, 2016

9 Responses to “The Single Most Effective Way to Survive (and Thrive) Your Early Years as a Writer”

  1. This article has lots of charm and truth. I can just see the scene when your head "blows up" in front of the laughing small-town German diners!

    Thanks for reminding us that we are not alone. And humor always helps!


    Guest (Don Jones)

  2. I really enjoyed your article I enjoy German things. I feel this way sometimes about America and the different tribes and cultures. This beckons the question what is American culture and should the world follow suit thru our multicultural experiences. We are the most varied country and allow the most freedom don't we? I realized I don't like horseradish sorry to say and I started a list to that end. So thanks to AWAI...

    Guest (bobby jr)

  3. Bridge Over Troubled Waters The forums on Groupsite are an incredible support group ready to encourage us when we're down, or worried, or even frightened we don't have what it takes to complete the Companion series or the Accelerated program. It's unthinkable that I wouldn't finish the program I've started with the forums behind me.

    Vicarious Pleasure Even when I'm not on Groupsite, I can feel the different people pulling for me. Then there's the thrill of seeing someone meet with a new client, finish a website, or perhaps decide on a niche.

    I totally get the importance of being part of a writer's group!

    Pat H

  4. When I read your story, I laughed with the Bavarian farmers. I recognized instantly what the white, creamy sauce was. I ALMOST ordered that when our daughter and I were traveling in Germany and asked the waiter what a certain German word was. We understood some German. He described the word as a white, long vegetable. Neither of us liked parsnips; we didn't order it. We later looked the word up and were VERY glad we had not ordered that dish. Yep, it meant horseradish.


  5. I have had very little experience connecting with other writers.

    Guest (Ron McRae)

  6. I remember as being a young child my father grew horseradish's and never seen the white creamy reddish till I married and my mother-in-law had it. But I do like regular horseradish too.
    I also loved your story it was humorous.

    Joanne D

  7. I agree on making contact with other writers. At the 2013 boot camp I met two women I now call friends. One lives in Nova Scotia, one in Minnesota, and I'm in Arizona. Last fall, we gathered in Minnesota for a week to work and play together. They are my best critics.
    We're thinking of another reunion, this time in Nova Scotia - definitely in the summer!

    Guest (N Tossell)

  8. Hi, I'm new to AWAI but have a back ground in radio and newsletter editor for my department at AT&T some years ago. I've just published an ebook called "Whispers From The Haunted Woods" on amazon and created a website to help promote it.
    Writers groups I've encountered over the last 20 years or so didn't feature actual writers but dreamers who hadn't started yet. I look forward to meeting others who, like me, are actually making a go of it. I live in northeast Atlanta.

    Terry Sweatt

  9. My experience whenever reaching out to connect with "other" writers is great. Usually that is, until THEY realize that their "otherness" renders ME yet ANOTHER unto them.

    Same with architects.

    Guest (Chris Morris)

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)