Stop Waiting for Permission to Write

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The best piece of writing advice I ever received? It was from a professor of journalism in my hometown of Makhanda, Eastern Cape. He looked the 18-year-old me dead in the eye one fine September day and said, ‘What are you waiting for to begin your writing career, a letter of permission?’

His words stung. I’d gone to see the professor to beg for guidance, worried that I’d made the wrong choice in starting out with a business degree the previous year. What would it take for a small-town girl like me to build a career in something I was much more passionate about: the written word?

‘Now this may sound strange coming from me,’ the professor continued, looking at my crestfallen face and softening his voice slightly, ‘but you don’t need a degree in journalism to write, and you don’t need someone to say you’re good at it. You know what you actually need to do, if you really want to become a writer?’

This was an award-winning author of multiple books, a proven expert on the topic, currently sitting across from me. I was desperate for someone to shine a light so I could find my way. So that I could magically transform into what I’d always wanted to be.

‘Yes, sir, please tell me.’

He leaned back against the antique chair, closing his eyes briefly while he thought.

This better be good.

‘You just need …’ his eyes snapped open again, ‘to start writing.’

It seemed a simplistic answer, and I left his office feeling even more lost. I’d wanted to hear about the quick fix, not the hard graft. But now, more than 20 years later, I can finally grasp the full meaning of his words.

He meant that I should stop waiting. Stop twisting myself into knots wondering if I could. Stop looking for external validation. I should stop thinking about writing and actually do it. I should write because it was how I would process the world. I should write as if there was no one reading (often, that was the case at first). I should write because the more I wrote, the better I would get. Writing is a muscle, one that twitches in a writer’s body like an annoying tic, but it is also a muscle that gets stronger with time.

I wrote terribly at first, but I carried on. I wrote on days I didn’t have time or didn’t feel like it. I wrote because something inside me said that I had to.

And eventually, through the process of writing all those words and sentences, those paragraphs and stories – over days and weeks and months and years – small yet wonderful things started to happen. I published my first article on a website, gasping when I saw my name blink on the screen. I rushed to the shops on a Sunday to find my byline within the pages of a newspaper. And then one day, an editor at a publishing house read my pitch for a non-fiction book and said: ‘YES, we want this. We want your words, because we believe that people will pay to read them.’

I finally looked up then and saw that through the active process of doing, I had indeed become a writer. I had tapped my fingers against a keyboard, time and again, taking ideas and making them tangible. There is no magic more powerful than that of creation, and none of that happens if we wait for external sources to convince us it should be so.

So, stop waiting for permission. Start writing. Do it today.

About the Author

Belinda Mountain is a writer, author and marketing consultant who has lived in London, Europe and South Africa over the past 20 years. Her first non-fiction book was published by Kwela Books in 2023, and she has written for the Sunday Times, Fast Company, Glamour and Entrepreneur. Before co-founding a content agency, she worked in the publishing industry for Penguin Books and Harlequin. Her author site is

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