How to Begin.

By: Jen Shoop

I was recently talking about running with a girlfriend and we were comparing notes on how long it takes to “hit our stride” on an every day run. I observed that the first half mile is all adrenaline, and then I hit the valley of my run from miles 0.5-1.5, hating nearly every step. Closing in on two miles, everything starts clicking and I feel good, solid, gaited. She commented, “Well, yeah. You’re basically forcing your body to go from not-running to running, and it takes awhile to warm up.”

I promise I won’t turn Magpie into a running blog, but it is remarkable how doing anything intensively offers new metaphors for other areas of life. I’ve learned a lot from writing, baking, managing teams, and running businesses that percolates into every lane in which I swim.

I was reflecting, after that conversation with my girlfriend, on how many of these lessons hover around the complexity of beginnings.

Beginning a business is absurdly challenging, and in ways I did not anticipate. It was hard to tell family and friends what I was doing. You go from living a normal, quantifiable 9-5 job at an extant company to — “So, I think I’m going to, like, try to solve this problem in the HR space. Using technology. No, I don’t code.” Ditto explaining that I would be focusing full-time on Magpie. “No, I’m actually not going back to the workforce. I’m going to be writing on my blog. Um, a blog is…” I’m still gasping for air remembering these conversations. They are painful because they are your first “pitches” but you don’t realize it — you only see your reputation teetering across a thin tether.

Starting to write presents a different set of hurdles. Sometimes I feel blank and uninspired. Sometimes I have a directional sense as to what I want to write, but all of the first swags are off-balance, not-right. Sometimes I find myself writing around a subject, and the entirety of the first three paragraphs ends up in the garbage bin by the end. It is a loose and free-wheeling sensation that feels, I would imagine, something like throwing clay for a pot. For a good while, you are manipulating a spinning, featureless mass. Then, suddenly, a shape: a form designed over time by careful, focused movements.

The challenging with baking is its pre-work. You must read the recipe thoroughly in advance, which I hate doing. I swear that I get to the second step and the instructions blur. “Yadda, yadda, OK, OK,” I mumble, skimming. But I have ruined too many dishes by not reading carefully enough. “Oh, oops – I need to let this sit 3 hours.” Then there is the retrieving and measuring of ingredients. Bringing some items up to room temperature. Preheating ovens. It is a lot of focused prep. It took me awhile to realize that the “pre-work” is actually baking, too. I remember one time watching a professional baker prep his pans. Everything was done with such care, such precision! I specifically recall the way he spritzed each of the four corners of his baking sheet with cooking spray (with flourish!) such that a perfectly-cut rectangle of parchment paper would stick to the sheet rather than curl up or shift around. Meanwhile, I have been known to tear parchment paper from the roll such that the ends curl over the sheet, or such that the lower right half of the sheet is actually uncovered by parchment because I ripped the paper too quickly. Watching this master prepare his tins with care awakened something in me.

A few through-lines across beginnings in these disparate realms:

+Begin as you mean to continue. Like the master baker prepping his tins. I’m still learning this in the running realm, where I much prefer to shoot off like a bat out of hell to get through things as quickly as possible, knowing full well I will putter out within a few miles. But in work, in baking, in life: bring a consistent energy that you can realistically maintain over time. Take care in every step. I will admit that I am still uneasy with the sense of shifting into a low gear in any realm of life (running or otherwise), so I have made peace with the idea of “a mid-plus” energy in running that I sometimes also find myself bringing to my writing. Most days, I write with joy. Other days, I sit and see what unfurls with a metered willingness. Mid-plus feels like a comfortable focal point for me: a pace, an expectation, that is just north of comfortable.

+Live where your feet are planted. It is easy to get ahead of yourself, to worry about what you might encounter next week, next year. To fret about the enormous hill that’s meeting you in about a half mile. The most important mile is the one you’re running right now.

+Make everything the most important thing. I wrote about this quote from Mads Mikkelsen in some depth a few weeks ago, and it still sits with me. It blends the previous two concepts: focus on what you’re doing right now and bring your best to it. Blot out everything else. Treat your work with respect and intensity.

+Trust that you will hit your stride. It make take adjustments, but you will get there. The first days at any new job are a unique kind of cringe. You are asked to read a lot of documents. Your boss wildly overestimates how much time it will take you to fill out forms and get organized at your desk and you just sit there wondering what you’re meant to be doing. You don’t know whether to pack a lunch or plan to buy out. Who will you sit with? Where is the bathroom? All of these tiny details make for a bumpy first couple of days, but you know you will soon have your routine check-ins with your office friend at 10 A.M., your salad spot around the corner, your favorite security guard in the lobby. It just takes time. There is a quote I came across awhile ago — “Monet had to grow his gardens before he painted them.”

+Smell the prodigal biscuits. Rita Dove said it best. Andale! The whole sky is yours! What are you waiting for?! Onward, onward —

What else would you add to this list? How else do you think about beginnings?


+Tactical advice on how to get started with writing.

+Is pressure a choice?

+Still unpacking this post. A Magpie reader wrote to say it was her favorite post I’d ever written, which just reminded me that sometimes you really need to hear something.

Shopping Break.

popular fashion


+Still cannot live without this concealer. It is a must for tired mama eyes — erases all signs of dark circles. I take color 02. The secret is hydrating your face really well, dabbing on undereye area and sides of nose, and then blending with an Artis oval 06 brush.

+Love this chartreuse sweater — a friend of mine said she was surprised by the quality relative to price!

+Hokas in fun new colors for spring. Cute with these Beyond Yoga leggings – 50% off!

+Just picked up this Lug Von Siga top on sale for around $100 (originally over $400)! It is SO me. Bridgerton meets drape-clothing-from-Sound-of-Music yessss.

+These under-$10 peelers are the best on the market. The shape makes it so easy to peel!

+A friend of mine recently raved about this LSpace bikini — she said it is highly flattering AND supportive for larger busts (plus, she has nursed four babies!). I found it on sale for 50% off. Love the hot pink!

+Hill House’s new launch has some really pretty finds…I’m kind of swooning over this new nap dress silhouette?

+ChappyWrap launched its Warehouse Sale, and you can get an extra 10% off with code EXTRA10. Love this herringbone neutral.

+This Mango jumpsuit reminds me of something by Alexis. So fun for a warm weather vacation!

+I’ve been hearing good things about these Skout bars for kids. (“Plant-based ingredients so simple you can count them on your fingers. None of that artificial stuff, and no gluten, dairy, or soy either.”) I’m always looking for new, healthier on-the-go snacks for them.

+A pretty spring dress. Some of you are already thinking ahead to Easter — this is a good option!

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10 thoughts on “How to Begin.

  1. Ha! I saw the Lug Von Siga top in stores and immediately thought of you! It’s perfect. I found the fit to be a bit tricky so sadly didn’t purchase. I hope it worked out for you!

  2. I’m saving your list of through-lines for new beginnings (it’s helpful!), and might also add that beginnings – especially successful beginnings – require letting go:
    -Holding too tightly to the knowledge and familiar practices of a past job might hinder one from seeing new, innovative ways to make a new business flourish, and may stifle the learning process that often makes businesses (and new business owners!) durable and capable of growth;
    -Clinging to ideas of what you -want- to write or -need- to write, or similarly falling into the comparison trap, makes writing something authentic and genuinely satisfying a lot harder, if not impossible; and
    -Sitting with too many notions that the prep work for baking is arduous leads to procrastinating (instead of procrasti-baking)

    Maybe in order to ‘smell the prodigal biscuits’ and accept that one will find their way on their own terms, there has to be a self-unburdening of sorts that allows for moving forward, beginning, and persevering.

    And consider this a second vote for those dynamic warmups – game changers!

    1. Yes, Jess — this is such a smart addition to the list. You really need to be able to unclip to move forward. Sounds so obvious but can be really difficult. I mean this even on a logistical level. I get really into grooves with how I like to work / my daily habits / etc and sometimes they just can’t be accommodated in new working / life situations. I was just telling my husband this because I am contemplating a new workflow for a subset of my blog posts, but it feels wildly uncomfortable to me. I am so accustomed to sitting down and writing something from top to bottom, start to finish, before moving onto the next post. A post just feels like a discrete unit of work. But there are drawbacks to that. A lot of times I’m in one headspace (a shopping one, a visual one, or a writerly one) and forcing myself to toggle between modes is challenging. Anyway, that’s a bit nitty gritty but you get my point. I think that unclipping from my former way of doing things might actually help me in the long run but I’m struggling with that.

      Thank you for this provocation!


      1. I can absolutely understand the tumult in trying something that feels uncomfortable! Thank you for sharing this, and if I might add something I’ve learned in recent weeks, having been in a work situation that is not bad, but different from what I’d grown accustomed to (and notably isn’t my ideal, or most desired scenario): it has actually served to show me where I thrive personally and professionally, and has given me insight to the type of work that I excel at. If nothing else, we might learn something about ourselves that’ll help us in the long run, and we’ll be better for it. I’m sure that your blog will continue to flourish, and you, as a person will grow having pushed through some discomfort-and who knows, you might find a new way to work that you previously hadn’t even considered that might be better than everything you’ve tried before! Here’s to new beginnings and new discoveries!

  3. Anna beat me to my comment! It’s a game changer for how I feel physically when I start running. My mental game still takes about a mile to get in the zone – mostly to slow down and enjoy that feeling of doing nothing (but moving of course).

    Another note to say how much I love your long form writing. I’m not much of a shopper at all so I’ve stepped away from many blogs as they’ve evolved over the years as I don’t want to buy anything. I’m enjoying the move towards newsletters, but there’s still something I love about how personal blogs can be (and feedly – I still love feedly!). Thank you for sharing your skill with the written word with all of us! It’s such a treat for me.

    1. Hi Lauren! Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. It brings me such satisfaction, peace, purpose to hear that my writing is landing for you. Long live the long form blog post!!!

      Thanks also for the upvote on dynamic warm ups. I tried that the last two runs and they REALLY helped. I mean, really. I especially was having an issue with my knee kind of locking up during that first half mile and that seems to have resolved with this new technique.

      Grazie mille —


  4. Two words: dynamic warmups! If you warm up well before a run the first steps will feel effortless, I promise. You can do them in your driveway and it will only take about 5 mins.

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