Asha Dornfest has been writing her entire life, but it wasn’t until she published her first book that she started to call herself a writer. What is it about that term, writer, that makes so many creatives fearful? And what can we do when we have something to say but are scared to get started?
Well, for starters, we can listen to Asha’s advice.
Eight books later, no one would dispute that Asha is a capital-W Writer, nor that she's leveraged that title into even greater success. With over 20 years of experience to her name, and a flourishing online platform and podcast, she might be one of the strongest examples out there of how to live a Portfolio Life.
I sat down with Asha last month during a visit to her hometown of Portland, Oregon. I wanted to hear more about how she found her voice, connected with her tribe, and leveraged her platform into a thriving, multi-faceted career.
She has so much wisdom to share, and I wish I could fit it all into this interview. But because I knew I couldn’t possibly do so, I’ve invited Asha to come speak at this year’s Tribe Conference. It’s coming up in just a couple weeks, and if you’re ready to find the kind of creative success that Asha has, you don’t want to miss her on the main stage.
Here's just a glimpse at her story and her advice for other writers.
Q: Have you always been a writer? How did you come to that realization?
Asha: I’ve always written, but it took me a while to call myself a writer. That is to say, I’ve enjoyed writing (and reading) ever since I was a kid, but I didn’t see writing as a career path until much later. I was the kid who wrote poems and stories and submitted them to kids’ magazines. I was the college student who never pulled all-nighters because writing papers came easily. I was the employee who loved to write up reports and internal communications.
I think new writers are too worried that it has all been said before. Sure it has, but not by you.
But I didn’t consider myself a writer until after I published my first book, a how-to about web publishing, in 1996. Weird, I know.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a writer? Has that definition changed over time?
Asha: I love to write. But more than that, I love to communicate which, by definition, is two-way.
I wouldn’t be a writer today were it not for the Internet (blogs, specifically) because my energy comes from having conversations—the exchange between writer and reader, the talking and the listening and interpreting.
I’m more interested in exploring ideas with a group of thoughtful people than I am in delivering a message from a pedestal (or platform, as the case may be).
Q: What does your daily writing routine look like?
Asha: My writing and family life are very much entwined, and so my routine varies week to week, and year to year.
I do my best work in the morning, so I try to get down to my creative work shortly after the kids are in school and the dogs are walked. When they were little, I would do my writing before they woke up. I save administrative and editing tasks for the afternoon.
But I have a long way to go in this regard. I sometimes joke that I’m a better employee than a self-employed person because I find it so hard to define and stick to my own routine (bosses and offices help with this!). I’m also an extrovert, so there’s the constant, distracting pull from social media and potential coffee dates.
I’d get a lot more done and be a more effective writer if my work life was more structured. Not rigid, just more clearly defined.
Q: What other things do you do as part of your portfolio life? Writers never just write for eight hours a day—what else fills your professional time?
There's always room at the table, and success doesn’t require a perfect writing system or method.
Christine and I co-wrote the book Minimalist Parenting in 2013. We find such joy in working together that a podcast was a natural way to keep doing that.
Q: What do you wish you’d known about the writer’s life when you started?
Asha: That it can be lonely. I need regular infusions of in-person contact or I start feeling anxious and unsure of myself.
Social media both helps and hurts because it lets me feel like I’m interacting, but really it’s still solitary. (This is why conferences like the Tribe Conference are so, so important.)
Q: What’s one thing writers get wrong about mastering the craft and succeeding as a writer?
Asha: I think new writers are too worried that it has all been said before. Sure it has, but not by you.
The human condition doesn’t change that much over time, so there’s more than enough room for similar themes to be interpreted by many different people. Just start writing.
Q: How do you conquer common writing challenges like writer’s block and procrastination?
Asha: I set a timer for 15 minutes, work with focus during that time, then reward myself with 15 minutes of something offline.
Q: What milestones have you achieved as a writer, and what do you still hope to achieve?
Asha: I’ve written eight books, most recently Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids. I’m so proud of this book as it represents the very best of my 10+ years of community at ParentHacks.com. It’s something delightful and fun that people can hold, page through, and give as a gift and say, “Hey! I’m part of that.”
The book launch and national tour in spring 2016 was an incredible experience, and I have my fabulous publisher, Workman, and my amazing online community to thank for that.
Just start writing.
One of the most exciting moments was getting to do a live interview with Kelly McEvers for All Things Considered at the NPR studio in LA.
I’m also proud to have won an Iris Award last year for Parent Hacks. Winning this industry award, voted on by peers whom I admire and respect, was one of the great highlights of the year.
Q: What will you be speaking on at Tribe Conference?
Asha: I’ll share wisdom and lessons learned along my 20-year journey as a writer, the last 11 of which have been spent primarily on the Internet. New writers should know that there is always room at the table, and that success doesn’t require a perfect system or method.
Join Asha Dornfest, myself, and a couple hundred more writers and creatives at this year's Tribe Conference. Click here to get your ticket and learn more about the conference.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer? Share in the comments.