Writing and Singing – What’s the Diff?

By Milli Thornton

SOMETIMES WHEN I’M feeling overwhelmed by my workload, or when I’m feeling sleep deprived, I’ll have one of those horrible existential moments when my life—and my writing—feels meaningless.

That’s always when my dinosaur brain comes up with some really supportive self-talk for my writing, such as, “What’s the point of working this hard for just a few loyal readers?” (about my travel blog) … or … “With the way the weather patterns are behaving these days, I could be swallowed by a tsunami coming off Lake Erie before I could ever write this, much less see it produced” (about my latest screenplay idea).

Luckily, I wasn’t in that frame of mind when I was electrified by this quote on Twitter a few days ago:

The GypsyNesters (@gypsynester)


A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

— Maya Angelou

I’ve actually been feeling so inspired and creative lately, I don’t have time to worry about whether any of it’s meaningless or not. I’m too busy trying to get my other work done and cram in some exercise and sunshine so I’ll have time to WRITE.

A great position to be in, but I can’t realistically expect to stay there forever. That’s why I saw that quote and wanted to put it in a place where it would always remind me. (See it posted in a permanent position in the top right corner of the blog?) Because I know someday I’ll need to be reminded that I was generously given some gifts by an intelligence far greater than my own—and you can assign to that whatever spiritual identity you prefer—and it’s up to me to sing my song.

Since the quote mentions birds, and because I love the power of symbolism, I decided to think about what kind of birdsong would be the most ideal for a writer. Rather than buying a book on Birdsong for Dummies, I decided to turn to my writing friend and avid birder Julia Munroe Martin from the wordsxo blog.

I asked Julia what she thought the ideal bird would be to symbolize writers singing their song and here’s what she said:

I would say that the Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) would symbolize the writer’s “song.” It is a rather unassuming bird (also described as “shy and retiring, seldom seen”) but has a beautiful song—described as haunting and melancholy and lovely on the Cornell Birds website, where you can listen to it.)

The Blogging Life and Remembering to Sing Like a Hermit Thrush

Do you ever find yourself worrying about how many comments you got on a blog post, or looking obsessively at your numbers of followers on social media? Sure, we all need to pay attention to these things for our writing careers . . . but if it eats into our writing time or erodes our passion for getting some new writing done, what are we really doing to ourselves?

My friend j of the Zebra Sounds blog (and the j’s Journey series here on the FoW blog) and I are always talking by email about how to remain true to ourselves, how not to be seduced by the numbers game and how to build our online presence based on true passion. j often shares some marvelous tidbit she found in her travels around the web, and recently I stumbled across one that I knew she would love:

No one will remember you for your blog rank or your follower count. They will remember you for the impact you made in real lives. This is what matters. Sometimes we have to make that impact even if it is not known or recognized. Compassion and giving is not about fame. It is about making the world a better place.

Geoff Livingston via Lilly @lilianavonk

As writers, we can remember that “giving” is part of what we do. No matter whether you’re writing comedy (the healing power of laughter), laboring to finish your novel (readers of novels gain tremendous value from reading fiction), or penning articles for online health sites, you’re giving to the world through your creativity.

Serendipitously, while I was emailing with Lilly to ask for the origin of the quote above, I saw this on Twitter in another screen:

@Ineedtocreate (Steve supple)

Don’t have to be in a factory to be on a production line. You’ll be more productive doing your own thing.

What is your position on all this? Do you need reminders to put your “singing voice” ahead of the numbers game? Or can you share with us some powerful secret for staying connected to your true gifts? Please leave a comment and sing your truth!



Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

9 Responses to Writing and Singing – What’s the Diff?
  1. Julia
    Twitter: wordsxo
    September 16, 2011 | 6:39 AM

    Singing like a hermit thrush here to say & sing: THANK YOU for including me in this lovely post — I LOVE IT! And thank you for the reminder that I’m giving something to the world, no matter how “small and retiring, seldom seen,” I feel in the world!

  2. j
    September 16, 2011 | 11:31 AM

    LOVE the Maya Angelou quote! I think she can be my higher source. 😉 I also love how well you’ve captured that wonderful (precious, tenuous) time when the ideas are flowing fast and furious and all you need is the time to write them down. Smart of you to arm yourself for when the well runs temporarily dry. (If we could just figure out how to bottle that inspired/energized/oh-yeah-this-is-why-I-write feeling!)

  3. Steve Supple
    September 16, 2011 | 12:16 PM

    Thanks so much for including my quotes in your great post. It’s funny, when I wrote that tweet, I thought it was missing something but you got so much from it. Writing is like that. We sometimes think it won’t make the impact we hope for. Then we get some positive feedback, & we realize it speaks to people in ways we couldn’t imagine.
    we learn so much about ourselves through writing & we learn a lot about the readers world too.
    PS: One thing that has helped me; I avoid making judgements or major decisions about my work when I’m tired.
    Appreciate your thoughts Milli.

  4. Lilly
    September 16, 2011 | 3:01 PM

    Gosh, to be included in such august company…the mind boggles! 😀

    But coming from my own little hermit thrush’s nest, I must say that I write because I HAVE TO; I’ve never paid much attention to the numbers, because that isn’t why I do it (see: my persistently immature outlook). Although I’m amazed and humbled that my silly little Doctor Who macros Tumblr has reached heights of popularity I never could have anticipated, I originally started it just to make my friends laugh–and ultimately, that’s what’s more important. Being able to give someone a giggle in the middle of a tough day has far more intrinsic relevance than that post being reblogged over 400 times.

    Thus I don’t think you even need to question whether or not your writing has meaning; the fact that you’re using your creativity to make connections with others guarantees that all this is *anything* but meaningless. You’re letting your bird sing–isn’t that all that matters? 🙂

    (If this was on Tumblr, the accompanying hashtag would be, “My philosophy let me show you it.” 😉

  5. Roona
    September 17, 2011 | 10:06 AM

    I loved this article and the quote about the bird. I don’t worry too much about comments and blog stats although I make it a point to check my stats from time to time. I write simply because I have to…I don’t write blog posts regularly on a schedule but kind of use my blog to air any thoughts or feelings that are too strong and willful to remain locked in my mind and heart for long!Once it is out there, I let it go knowing whether it touches one or none, it really doesn’t impact my life anymore, my chief need was to sing and I sang and it’s over…that’s for my blog posts…now for my other writings…ah! that’s another matter altogether!

  6. Lois
    September 19, 2011 | 10:18 AM

    Beautiful post, and the quotes are perfect! 🙂

    I’ve never been one to look at the numbers…Okay, I’ve rarely been one to look at the numbers. I write because I want to connect with my characters. And I want to share them and their stories with others. I always hope that something about my characters (and how they deal with situations) will speak to people reading. If only one person reads it and gets something out of it, that’s a win for me. 🙂

    That said, the main reason I write is to connect with my characters, which is a way of getting in touch with parts of myself. After all, every one of my story heroes has a little bit of me in them. I don’t see myself as being heroic like they are, but I share some of their personality traits. Seeing how they go through things gives me a sense of hope…a sense that peace and happiness can be found in the midst of incredible turmoil.

    Numbers don’t really mean that much to me, since I don’t advertise. But I’ve gotta stay in touch with my characters, because they help me sort out my own life in ways that I can’t do it on my own. Does any of this make sense? 😉


  7. Patti Stafford
    Twitter: pattistafford
    September 20, 2011 | 10:00 AM

    Great post Milli,

    I’m having one of those “hermit” days and don’t feel much like singing. I think it may be a journaling day.

    As for numbers, I don’t pay much attention to them. I should pay more attention since I’m trying to build a business, but the most important thing to me, right now, is making connections. These aren’t always made on my blog/s. They are generally made in other places, where I can’t see the numbers.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    September 22, 2011 | 4:31 PM

    Milli, let me first make sure I leave a comment here so you feel like someone has heard your birdsong! 🙂

    “Do you ever find yourself worrying about how many comments you got on a blog post, or looking obsessively at your numbers of followers on social media?”

    Oh my, yes. Before I started the MFA and had a bit more time to put into my blog and Twitter, I delighted in the growth of both. Now as I’ve scaled back those latter two, they’re at best stagnant; good conversation, back-and-forth, but not “growth” in hits or followers like I saw before. I know what I would need to do to reverse that, but I’m choosing my time (for now) differently. What delights me, though, is that where I’m leveled right now affords delightful online connections, including with you. So that’s what I celebrate over hits, comment numbers, and RTs!

  9. Kate Arms-Roberts
    September 22, 2011 | 10:48 PM

    I love this post Milli. I have been watching my blog/follower numbers more closely now than I was a few months ago because I have changed my approach to my blog and I am curious to note any new patterns.

    But, I am looking at the numbers with simple curiousity rather than anxiety because I truly believe that the new direction I am taking is more deeply about me singing my song. Somehow that shift in intention seems to make all the difference.

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?