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Michelle Miller, Writer


Michelle Miller, Writer

City: New York, New York 

Passion: Writing

Twitter: @ammiller1012

When I met Michelle at Stanford, she struck me as the ambitious, driven woman who knew what she wanted out of her life and went after it. Interestingly enough, when Michelle let me know she was going to join the corporate world after spending her summer writing, I knew this was not going to last. Why? Because when Michelle sets her charming gaze upon something, she goes after it and makes it a success. Just imagine when that something is her passion. And so, a year later, she finally realized writing was something to stop dabbling in: she quit her JP Morgan job to focus on it full time and hasn’t looked back.


On Passion

I think passion is something that’s always there, and that’s what makes it so difficult to find. Passion isn’t a skill or activity, it’s a part of who you are, so it’ really hard to recognize- like trying to articulate what you see when you see the color green.
It took dabbling in a lot of things, trying on a lot of roles and personalities to connect with my passion. I found that the only time I truly lost track of time was when I was writing – whether it was journaling late at night or writing an email at work or brainstorming an article for the business school newspaper.
I felt so selfish sitting at my desk at JP Morgan, knowing that I wanted to be a writer: first, because I knew there were people who would do a better job in my role because they wanted it more; second, because I was wasting this huge, once-in-a-lifetime gift of knowing what I wanted to do. I started becoming cognizant of all the people in my life who had helped me discover my passion and supported me along the way. I realized that I was standing at the start line, but not running. Once I saw it that way, not pursuing my passion was not an option.

On Mastery

Practice, practice, practice. But it’s not just practice sitting at a computer putting words on a page: it’s practice thinking through issues, practice knowing what helps you get to the break-through faster.
It helps to actively engage with other artists and art forms. I don’t read very much – it makes me compare too much. But I love listening to music when I need emotional energy: I’ll listen to songs that convey the emotions I’m trying to describe in my characters. Television helps when my characters start feeling stale or the plot lines aren’t clear in my mind; talking to visual artists always makes me feel better because it helps me tap into a different way of seeing the world.

On Transition

I was very lucky to get an assignment to write a series of young adult novels. They weren’t the topic I particularly wanted to write about, and didn’t get paid a lot, but it got me into the practical habit of exercising the writing muscle, building stamina for long days of creating content. I also learned when I wrote best and how to get through writer’s block.
I think the key thing to do during the transition is to make sure you know yourself well enough to know the things that are likely to hold you back (concentration? concern over money? the feedback of strangers or friends?) and start actively practicing them.
One of my big fears in leaving my job was that I wouldn’t know what to do my first morning off the real job. So I did as much as I could to prepare: I found the coffee shops where I liked to work, I outlined the book I wanted to write, I started making friends with other entrepreneurs and listening carefully to their advice.

On Fear of Failure

I really don’t think there is any such thing as failure. For good or bad, nothing ever turns out the way you expect it to, so it’s pointless to think about failure or success. I had a lot of people turn me down when I pitched my investment: was that a failure? It sucked, that’s for sure, but it also made me tighten my pitch and hone in on the kind of people I wanted as investors.
This fear over failure or hope for some pre-defined success – if you let your passion become about those things, that’s when your passion becomes work, and that’s when you set yourself up for the only real failure, which is losing the joy in the life you’re so blessed to have found.
My biggest fear is not honoring my passion. It’s so powerful to think about all of the people and opportunities I’ve crossed since the moment I was born that have brought me to where I am now. My fear is that I’ll let my “self,” my ego and my day-to-day desire get in the way of making something meaningful of my time within this lineage.
Practice your fear. Practice experiencing whatever it is you fear most. Practice people hating your work; practice getting up every morning and staring at your computer screen unable to think; practice talking about yourself.

On Money

I’m constantly treading the line of having ­just enough money to do what I need to do. What’s funny to me is that I felt just as poor when I had a Wall Street salary as I do now: then I had to buy expensive clothes and meet friends for expensive dinners and buy the Friday redeye-Sunday return airline tickets. Now I wear shorts and t-shirts and meet friends for walks and travel whenever it’s cheapest because it doesn’t really matter.
Money makes things quicker and easier but that does not necessarily make them better. I definitely gave up a lifestyle and, honestly, I haven’t really missed it.

On Self-Love

I think self-love is having empathy with your inner voice. I didn’t realize until about a year ago, when a very wise woman pointed it out, what a bitch my inner voice is. The things she says to me – the criticism and anger and doubt - are things I’d never say to a friend yet I let them collect on my own psyche. Learning to talk back to my inner voice was critical to my journey.
This idea of honoring one’s body is so fundamental to everything I do, because I really believe it’s not about me, it’s about what I’m preparing myself to do. There was a time when yoga was about toning my triceps: now it’s about making myself a more patient person so that I’m a better friend. Eating used to be about controlling calories: now it’s about nourishing my body and mind to produce good work.

On Support

I spent so much time looking for my community – trying to find that neighborhood or building or group of friends who I could label ‘community.’ And it wasn’t until I gave up that I realized community for our generation is not in one place. I can find my people whether I’m in NY or London or California or Indianapolis.

On Inspiration

Who doesn’t inspire me? The guy I used to date, the teacher I had in middle school, the woman sitting on the Tube reading her kindle. The best part about writing characters is that everyone becomes an inspiration for something as I work to imagine his context, his inspiration, his fears, his joys.
On a ‘me and my journey’ level, I think Tina Brown and Terry Gross are two huge inspirations: I like to think I see the world the same way they do, and that that bodes well for my own chances of one day having a voice.

Advice to the Community

Do something every single day that gets you closer to your passion. Whether it’s practicing or setting up an LLC or interviewing a vendor or telling the barista at Starbucks about it, never let a day pass that you aren’t expressing your passion.