Pearls and Perils of Writing (and Life)

What are the parallels of writing and everyday life? Here are a few nuggets.

I was invited to illuminate book publishing and blogging for the Illinois Women’s Press Association this past weekend. Synchronicity smiled upon me as hot-off-the-press copies of my new book, Transforming Retirement: Rewire and Grow Your Legacy, reached my doorstep 24 hours before the talk! I opened my box of books and felt a flurry of emotions.                                          

This may sound overblown but trust me on this – writing a dissertation or a book is filled with synchronicities and is like a mini-birth. It in no way compares with the intensity of real birthing emotions but there is a certain gravitas in cradling a bit of one’s creativity in your arms; both events call for deep breathing.

 I felt the weight of 5 years of work in holding this new book – recalling both moments of joy (writing watersheds) and suffering (publishing perils). I flashed upon the last leg of this writing journey – composing the index. I had indexed two previous books, but I somehow forgot how tedious this process was. (Parts of life are tedious too.) Frequent deep breaths were required to rewire my focus. Now discerning readers can condense the entire book concepts in the 12 pages of index. Aren’t there days when we need an index to navigate everyday life?

How can one condense meaningful ideas into pertinent words? Once Hemingway was asked to write a full story using only 6 words. His mysterious version suggests peril: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” I challenge you to write your 6-word life story. Here is mine: “Country gardener, city psychologist, lifelong learner.” Activist Gloria Steinem condensed: “Life is one big editorial meeting.” Author Frank McCourt was tongue-in-cheek: “The miserable childhood leads to royalties.” Thankfully, I did not endure a miserable childhood, but I also have not reaped many royalties in writing non-fiction books.

If your writing does not produce monetary sustenance, why write? There are as many different answers to this question as there are writers. Here is my take: writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is one attempt to edit your own life story. Writers’ everyday life stories end up in their writing. Writer Natalie Goldberg admits that her only novel is a thinly disguised version of her ex-husband.

Author Joyce Carol Oates realized her basic need for connections: “Writing is like a dream that you are controlling…a wish to communicate your vision to other people…writing is communal…we see that we have some of the same experiences…you are not so isolated.” Yes, people do share many of the same experiences. This is everyday life!

Writing more than 60 works, Madeleine L’Engle offers this gem: “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Writing is work. Writing also gathers inspiring pearls. Who does not enjoy a daily dose of inspiration?

  Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

181. What do you write? Emails? Texts? _______? 182. How does your writing relate to your everyday life?                  

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. What a great read from one of my favorite country nature lovers! I do write texts and emails; more importantly, I am writing my life story. Yes, a little fiction may spice it up a bit. I write because the words need to come out. Thank you city psychologist for always inspiring.


  2. How true your words sound to me — we writers seem to have “words that need to come out!” I look forward to reading your memoir (if you are willing to share it outside of your family).


  3. Your voice is distinctive, wise but never ponderous, light with a touch of amusement even when addressing difficult emotions. I’ve been fortunate to hear you lead Mindful Reflection meditation and discussions for Arbor West Neighbors. I’ve finally arrived at your blog in order to “hear” you here and to congratulate you on your latest book. Wonderful!


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