We Are All Made of Nouns*

2 Min read

Short take

1 Book rec





We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin.

In Anna Quindlen’s new book, Write for Your Life, she says that people are “made of nouns, live by verbs, and enlarge and entertain ourselves with adjectives and adverbs.”* The chapter titles are writerly, from Infinitive and Object to Future and Past Perfect. The epigraph (quote at the beginning of a chapter) such as the one by Anais Nin above takes up its own page in the book. As does this one.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt

Quindlen argues for the importance of the diarist, such as the secret yet eternal life of Anne Frank. She ruminates on the doctor, the student, the gangster, the child, the parent. Love letters. Queen Elizabeth “spoke through her handwriting.” Writing is a human endeavor, for all of us, from criminal to royal.

Epigraph for the chapter, Conjugate. (p. 167)

Everyone should write. It is one of the most precious and uncommon gifts we can give, a handwritten note. The journal for oneself or the letter for another allows the writer to reflect, to compose, to set down what is on her mind. Quindlen’s writing is deceptively easy-to-read and richly textured with stories, others and her own. I read most of it in one sitting, 215 fast pages with lined end-pages to write on. Yes, she encourages the reader to write in books!

I have to write to discover what I am doing.”* Quindlen implores you to stop and give it a try. To write, unimpeded. So set the phone aside, turn off Netflix, quit Candy Crush. And, write by hand with a pen on paper. If you must, then type. Write to your partner. Write to your parent. Write to your child. Write for 15 minutes. Write for a page.

Write for yourself. You will be richer for it. Those you write to will be rich with what you choose to share or to confide. I ran into a friend in the park and we walked together. She lamented her college daughter’s lack of time to talk, busy as she was with studies and work and pre-med preparations. We talked about the letter, the old-fashioned snail-mail kind. She nodded and was letting it sink in. “Yes, I will write her,” she smiled.

Quindlen’s father made painstaking preparations for his funeral, writing his obituary and sharing a file with her. She writes, “I mocked it when he was alive; I clung to it when he was dead.”

There’s a reason we tie up letters carefully with ribbon. These are precious and intimate gifts.

My father’s14 weekly letters he wrote to me by hand in 1994 before my return from overseas and my upcoming wedding


*Write for Your Life by Anna Quindlen, 2022. “We are all made of nouns, live by verbs, enlarge and entertain ourselves with adjectives and adverbs.” (p. 20)

*”I have to write to discover what I am doing.” Flannery O’Connor. Opening epigraph of Quindlen’s book. I figured this out the long way, by writing and writing. It’s a powerful tool to figure things out, to learn about yourself, to gain perspective.

Oct 3, 2022


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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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