What I Learned from Writing a Book

Sarah McMahon
3 min readDec 18, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

If you’ve been here a minute, you know I recently published a book of poetry called Dirt Girl. When people ask me what it’s about, I say that, at a macro level, it’s about the divide between rural and urban America. At a granular level, it’s a series of stories about identity and the many ways society, class, and family shape identity, to the very core.

My poems are not incredibly complicated, chock fully of inuendo, or vague. They are stories, and if shoved beneath the microscope of a literary critic, they may even seem unsophisticated. I didn’t write my book for literary critics, though. I wrote it for normal people, who live normal lives that are fraught with crises and heartbreak and small, delicious moments of bliss. The more personal a story is, the easier it is for a reader to identify with it.

Dirt Girl was compiled over the course of three years. In that time, I wrote a lot of things and hated most of them, liked some of them, and saw a small glimmer of potential in the rest. Writing is just as much creation as editing, so here are my tips for someone in the throes of a writing project.

  1. Be consistent. Consistency is the most obvious, boring hack to get things done. Some writers claim to write every day. I write about four days a week, for at about an…