I just back from leading a writing retreat in Taos, which filled up my heart and soul in a thousand ways, and made me so proud of myself. I have learned to do this work! About half the women who attend my retreats come back again and again and several reflected to me during the retreat how proud they are of me and my growth.
On my drive home I thought a lot about this: how hard it is to keep pursuing our work when it takes time to mature, when we doubt ourselves, when others doubt us, and when it would be far easier to up and quit.
I made this video for you about just that. And for those who’d prefer to read, I wrote a post for you.
When I first started writing I was bad at it.
I have very little, if any, natural talent and the b-‘s and c’s I got on my stories and papers reflected that.
My first writing teacher in college, the great southern writer, Harry Crews, paid me no mind at all, even though I had grand delusions of being his star pupil.
Let’s see, what else?
My first screenplays were turned down by everyone who read them, although they did get me “meetings” and an agent which was supposed to mean I had a career. I most certainly did not have a career.
My first and only TV episode was substantially rewritten and I only got a “story by” credit.
The book I sold to Random House called The Mood Changer (never published, would have been my sixth book at the time) got taken over by a new editor who told me, “I’m not really a fan of you, your writing, or this book.”
The column I wrote for years for a popular national magazine was canceled a year after Martha Stewart’s company bought it. The editor didn’t like my writing.
I know. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
It’s possible you’re thinking, ‘Jen, are you just trying to get me to never write at all because the writing world is so damn tough?’
Never in a million years.
I’m telling you these stories because based on all of my work that has been bought and published, you could make the argument that I’m a successful writer.
Yes, I’ve written seven books that are now in 9 languages and have almost a million copies in print.
I do tend to sell out my writing retreats in a day or two.
I do have over 600 members in The Writer’s Oasis and adding more every week.
And yes, I have made a good living from my writing since 1992.
But that’s only part of the story. The other part is that I’ve had all of those major setbacks too. (And many more I won’t bore you with.)
What matters is: I learned to be stubborn.
I learned to be determined.
I learned to keep learning and trying.
I learned to keep churning out the words and working on deliberate practices when it came to my writing skills.
And I learned to keep owning my voice by finding the sweet spot between what I wanted to write and teach about and what people wanted to read and learn about. (Instead of trying to sound like what I thought I should sound like.)
I taught myself to stop doubting my abilities and my contribution.
I taught myself to stop saying “I should just quit because the last book didn’t sell as well.”
I taught myself to say and believe, “Oprah didn’t love me, on we go.”
I taught myself that there’s no there there – there’s just the prerequisite of a dream and a goal.
And I learned that we can’t just go out into the world unarmed. As a writer I learned very early that if I was going to make it, I was going to need some superpowers I could lean on along the way.
I’m thinking they might be useful for you to put in your creator’s toolbox as well.
Superpower #1 – Voice
What do you have to say in a way only you can say it? Own that and change it as you change or as your projects change. But hone in on what matters to you.
Superpower #2 – Audience
Who do you want to influence, inspire, change? Get to know them, let them get to know you, and then let them see you.
Superpower #3 – Practice
What do you need to learn to express yourself with more clarity and effectiveness? Break it down and make it part of you. This is not just something that happens accidentally. You have to notice what’s hard and then practice it. If it’s all easy, it’s time to grow.
Superpower #4 – Focus
There are a lot of people who are good writers. Good painters. Good creatives. But to be great you have to be willing to focus. A lot. Not 24/7 (it’s impossible anyway), but you aren’t going to become the creator you want to be if you spend most of your time being interrupted. Facebook, Netflix and email are not your friends.
Superpower #5 – Self-Compassionate Stubborn Determination
This is the most important superpower of all.
I was probably the least likely in my class at USC film school to go on to create a satisfying and long lasting creative career (with lots more to come!)
I was much more likely to move back to Florida, marry a nice golf playing boy, help him take over dad’s company, host good parties, and maybe finally learn to play a decent game of tennis.
However, even as I struggled through my various twists and turns in my career, and even when I contemplated quitting a thousand times, I never ever considered going backwards.
So please, stop thinking or talking about quitting.
Please stop saying “If this book doesn’t work or this blog doesn’t get traction or nobody buys my paintings, I’m going to quit.”
Please, please stop asking yourself or god forbid, anybody else, if you have talent.
Instead, find the tools and support that allow you to keep working week after week. Chop wood, carry water. Chop wood, carry water.
Dig in with compassionate grit.
Feed your devotion.
Nurture your desire.
Because I will be right along side you doing the exact same thing.