Allison Fallon is a bestselling author and founder of Find Your Voice—a community that offers workshops, coaching, editing, and support for anyone who wants to write a book. She has written and published 13 books and counting, coached hundreds of writers from total beginners to New York Times Bestselling authors, hosted workshops all over the country and world, and helped hundreds of thousands of people use writing as a tool for their own personal growth.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
Long ago, at the beginning of my writing journey — when I thought I was writing the story of my life — I wrote the phrase, “nothing terrible or exciting has ever happened to me.” And that felt true to me at the time. I grew up in white suburbia and felt that I could not have had a more white-washed or uninteresting childhood. Then I started writing about it and realized what so many people do as they begin writing their stories. That there is nothing more unique, more interesting, more magical — and at the same time more completely universal — than a personal story. As I wrote about my family of origin, I realized it was much more layered than I ever realized. I wrote about the church I grew up in and realized how much that environment has shaped my life, both for good and for bad. I wrote about a school experience that couldn’t have felt more “average” at the time I lived it; and I uncovered stories of scandal and (average boring teenage) heartbreak that helped me better understand myself as an adult.
So the direct answer is my childhood is just as boring and fantastical as yours was. It was magical and it was also devastatingly average.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I really wish I would have realized that nobody was smarter than I was. I heard Michelle Obama say something to this effect in an interview with Oprah. Oprah asked her what it’s like to be given a seat at the table with some of the world’s top leaders and influential thinkers. Michelle’s response was something like: you realize these people aren’t any smarter than you are… This struck me as so true and insanely important for all of us to realize. As long as the “smart, powerful, influential” people are in some other category over there, and you’re in a different category over here, you will always forgo your own ownership and agency and the power you have to transform the world around you.
I’ve heard people say “this generation” (either Millennials or Gen Z — depending on the conversation) is too narcissistic already. The last thing we need to do is convince them they are more special than they already believe they are. I couldn’t disagree more. If you remember, the story of Narcissus was a story of a man who couldn’t stop staring at his own reflection. What better cure for our cultural “narcissism” than deciding to stop staring at our own flaws and use our gifts and our magic to bring more light and beauty to the world?
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The most crushing advice given to new writers who want to publish something goes like this: grow your platform. Sadly, this is also the most common advice given to writers and I find that tragic. Nothing short-circuits good writing faster than working on growing your platform.
I have nothing against social media or big platforms or bestseller lists or goals to sell millions of books. But good writing is written with one person in mind (or sometimes a very small group). A person whose name you know and whose face you can see. It’s written like a love letter.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I really struggled with depression and anxiety in my 20’s. The factors, for me, were 1) I had unidentified trauma from my childhood, 2) I was raised in an evangelical church and fed constant messages about how sinful I was, and 3) I didn’t know any of this was going on so I self-medicated with alcohol. The cocktail of trauma, church, depression, drinking, desperate-for-love, and a sense I needed to “keep it all together” was a fast downward spiral.
I won’t go into the details because I know it can be triggering for some, but after a particularly dark moment at around 25, I decided I was going to take control of my life and make some important changes. I got into therapy, started talking about what was going on with me, stopped drinking as a medicator, started a writing practice (thanks to Julia Cameron), and discovered that my depression and anxiety were really like a giant arrow pointing me toward my inner light and energy and beauty — all of which I was keeping locked inside. What it really needed was an outlet!
Unused creative energy becomes toxic. Maya Angelou said it this way: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” So many people who suffer from deep depression are also beautiful artists waiting to be born.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It’s fair to say there have been many factors, and I do owe much of my success to others who have helped me get a leg up (we stand on the shoulders of giants). But at the end of the day, even with all the help and hand-holding in the world, you cannot be truly successful unless you trust yourself. Listen to yourself. Know yourself. This is one of the many gifts of the writing practice, and why I harp on this so much — because so few of us really trust ourselves and because writing is such a simple, powerful way to get there.
What is your morning routine?
6 am – wake up
6-7 am – time alone (to read, meditate, drink coffee, etc)
7-8:30 – time with my daughter (she’s 5 months old)
8:30-9:30 – get ready, get a shower (I usually listen to a podcast episode while I do this)
9:30-10 am – WRITE (this sets my day up for success)
After this is when my workday begins.
***A note about morning routines. It seems like the predominant message out there about a morning routine is the “rise and grind” approach. Just in case you need to hear this, there are many other effective approaches to a morning routine that do not include grinding. I do not subscribe to this approach. I find my days are most productive when I take great care of myself in the morning, nourish the artist in me as Julia Cameron would say — which means I move a little slower, connect with the people who mean most to me, etc. And if that means I’m tired and I sleep until 6:45 one morning? Great, that’s what I do.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Writing, of course 🙂
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s the act of writing at the beginning of the day — even for 20-30 short minutes — that set me up to be the most productive and efficient. To be clear, this doesn’t always mean I end the day at inbox 0 (I usually don’t). What happens during that time is I discover what is calling to my highest attention, which is not usually something I could have discovered by looking at my email inbox — and definitely not something I can uncover by looking at Instagram. Why are so many of us organizing our days around somebody else’s priorities, rather than going into ourselves to discover our own priorities and living from there? I think this one simple daily practice could transform our lives.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
There are too many to count, honestly! Books have been one of the most influential sources in my life. But a few that come to mind right away are The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I can still remember going through that program for the first time and discovering all of the life and creative energy that was buried inside of me that I hadn’t even known about. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, stands out as one of the best writing books I’ve ever read — and one that, like my book The Power of Writing it Down, makes the connection between the writing life and the rest of life. And also a poetry collection by Billy Collins called Sailing Alone Around the Room. Reading that collection made me fall in love with poetry for the first time at around 20 years old. Since then, poetry has been a steady friend for me. A place to go when something doesn’t make sense. Poetry makes it not only okay – but beautiful – to not make perfect sense.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
One of the interesting things about writing practice is you start to have quotes from yourself that you remember or revisit often. That might sound kind of self-centered, but what this really is is your intuition — or your truest self — speaking to you on a regular basis and reminding you of what is true. So for example, years ago I wrote a phrase to myself in one of my morning writing sessions that said, “there’s no such thing as missing your own boat” and I remind myself of that all the time now when I worry that I’m behind or when I start to get anxious and feel like I need to move faster in my life. I say it to myself like a mantra. I say, “you are not behind. There is no rush. There’s no such thing as missing your own boat.”
There’s nothing wrong with looking outside of ourselves for wisdom, but I truly believe most of us are missing out on the deepest, truest wisdom that could unlock our specific and personal lives because we don’t know how to go inside for insight and truth. Writing helps us do that.