2017 – The Year of the Novel

In the late winter of 2013, I came to a screeching halt with my writing. After failing to secure a publishing deal during a two-year option contract, I lost more than my confidence. I lost a piece of my heart.

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After my dreams crumbled before my eyes, I spent the better part of six months drifting around, unsure what to do next. Write? Don’t write? Every time I thought about picking up a pen, I cringed and threw myself into a different activity or hobby. The gym became my favorite place in the world. I signed up for all sorts of fitness classes (even Zumba, which shows you just how desperate I was to keep myself occupied).

As time trickled by, I grew more and more certain I’d never write again. Then, out of the blue, a co-worker suggested I sign up for a writing contest. At first I balked at the idea (and probably ran off to the gym for another Zumba class). But, after I danced away my crippling doubts, I decided to give it a whirl. That whirl transformed into a whirlwind of revived passion. I started a blog, began working on a new novel, and participated in more writing contests.

Write, write, write! I couldn’t get enough.

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Ever since, my writing whirlwind has continued. For the past three years, I’ve split my focus into multiple projects: Two novels, 20 short stories, 365 blog posts, seven writing contests, and dozens of editing jobs. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I needed every single project to learn and grow, and to become a better writer.

But now it’s time to narrow my focus. Dramatically. I can’t keep up the pace I’ve set for myself and expect to achieve my dreams. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my goal for 2017 sweet and simple: finish my novel and send it to agents. Period.

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Sounds easy, I know. And, theoretically, it should be achievable. If I maintain my current pace, I should have a beta-worthy draft to send to my first readers by the end of January. Depending on their reactions, I should have my next draft (or two) done by late spring/early summer. From there I should be able to spend the summer revising and sending subsequent drafts to readers for feedback. And, by fall, I should have a polished manuscript and my first batch of query letters ready for agents (ahh!).

Yes, I should be able to get all of that done. But, I’ve had the same plan the past two years and failed miserably. Hence the reason I’m making my novel my main priority this year. Besides blogging and accepting the occasional editing job (because, hello, money!), I won’t work on any other projects. Enough’s enough!

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To be honest, the toughest part of this will be giving up writing contests. I absolutely adore the adrenaline, ideas, and friendships I get from them. Unfortunately, the contests I like to participate in eat up TONS of time. Not only do I write a story, but I also get sucked into a forum where I critique hundreds of other people’s stories. During the past three years, I’ve critiqued at least 1,500. That’s roughly 750-1,500 hours of work!

Or, rather, 750-1,500 hours I could’ve dedicated to my novel.

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No. More! As much as I love competing, I need to put a hold on it until I finish my novel. I need to put a hold on a lot of things until it’s done.

Hopefully my narrowed focus will keep me on track this year. And, hopefully, by next January I’ll be able to hold up my manuscript and say, “There! It’s done!” Or, better yet, “I have an agent, and I’m on the road to publication!”

Let’s do this 2017!

How about you? What are some of your goals for the new year?

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A Writer’s Birthday Wish List

Today is my birthday and I thought it’d be fun to make a writer’s wish list. We all have different quirks and desires when it comes to our writing, so we all tend to want different things. Some of us want a fancy writing program, some a new “How To” book, and others registration for a big writing conference.

Here’s are some things I’d like…

TIME! 

Above all else, I wish I had more time (don’t we all?). I started a new job just over a month ago, and it’s been a huge transition for me. Between learning a whole new skill set, meeting new people, and getting accustomed to a brand new routine, it’s been difficult to find time (and motivation) to write. So, I’m wishing for things to settle down so I can get back on track with my novel.

Peanut M&Ms

11127771_366454080213813_5284361540707845078_nMy number one favorite writing snack is Peanut M&M’s. Don’t ask me why, but they help me focus. Perhaps there’s something about the sugar that keeps me pumped up and moving along? I don’t know. But, I’m wishing (and always wishing) for a bag–or two–of those delicious candies to store in my cupboard for long writing days.

A New Laptop

I desperately need a new laptop. For the past two years, I’ve been borrowing my sister’s and I think she’s about had it with me (sorry, sis). I’ve actually been saving up to buy a new Mac, so hopefully I’ll be able to invest in one soon. Well, unless one miraculously shows up on my front doorstep today with a big pink bow (ha-ha).

A new mug

11182163_10102180090972203_6916619407502259585_nI love mugs. Whenever a friend goes out of town, I ask them to bring me back a mug from wherever they visited. The results range from amazing to laughable. But, I love them all! And I’m always wishing for more.

Starbucks Gift Cards

This is kind of a silly one, but I don’t tend to buy Starbucks unless I have a gift card. It’s just too expensive! But, I love Starbucks, so getting those is always exciting.

A Readable Draft of My Novel

13631659_500120940180459_3874970909998615130_nIf I had a magic wand, I’d point it at my messy manuscript and–poof! It’d be all written and ready to be sent to my beta readers. I’ve been working on this novel for over a year and I’m starting to grow sick of it. Novels definitely take patience and perseverance!

An Agent 

I’m not even close to the querying stage with my novel, but I’ll take an agent anyway. Please, please, please? Pretty please, with a cherry on top?

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundaes

13716059_10102906619438333_4603779641737206020_nDon’t laugh…Okay, laugh. But, every Saturday night, after I’ve spent an entire day laboring over my manuscript, all I want is a giant chocolate chip cookie dough sundae, complete with fresh chocolate chip cookies. But do I ever have these ingredients in my house? Nope! I always forget until the moment I close my laptop and emerge from my la-la fog. And then I always wish someone will magically arrive on my front doorstep with my sundae. I wish just once–just once–that would happen, hee hee.

More Time 

Seriously, I need more time!

Noise Canceling Headphones

13450319_493524594173427_2925694245634024988_nLike so many of you, I have loud neighbors. Really loud! The kids are always outside screaming and laughing, and the father is always doing some sort of home improvement project. Ack! On a normal day, I don’t really mind the noise. I come from a loud family, so I’m pretty used to the chaos. However, when I’m writing, it drives me nuts. I can’t really get into the zone unless I have absolute silence, and the only headphones I own don’t block out all the noise. So, I think it’s time to get some noise cancelling headphones.

So, that’s my list this year. Pretty random, but it’s what I’m wishing for most as a writer for my birthday.

How about you? What do you wish for on your birthday?

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Confession: When It’s Time To Move On

In 2008, I finished my first manuscript–ever. I was so proud of myself and so certain an agent would fall in love with it…None did. Within a few months, I had a towering stack of rejection letters on my desk.

After I shed few tears and swallowed my first bitter taste of the “Industry of Rejection,” I forced myself to step back and ask myself a terrible question: “Now what?”

I didn’t know what to do. Rewrite my query letter–again? Rewrite my entire book? Rethink the whole concept? Or–God forbid–put it on a shelf and move on?

After a lot of agonizing debate, I turned to the one person I could trust for an honest opinion: My mom.

In her gentlest, I’m-sorry-I’m-saying-this-to-you voice, she said, “Jenna, your story isn’t that original. I think you can do better.”

Ouchhhh!

But, yeah. As hard as it was to hear–and even harder to accept–I knew my mom was right. The story I’d written wasn’t original. It had been done and done–and done! No agent would ever want it.

So, I made my decision: Move on.

And I did. Literally. I grabbed my iPod and went for a jog, hoping the fresh air, adrenaline, and movement would get my creative juices flowing. Somehow, they did. “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar came on and, like magic, a new story bloomed. I sprinted home and pitched the concept to my mom and sister.

Their reactions?

Actually, my sister’s exact words were, “That’s weird.” I decided to take that as a good thing and went to work.

And I didn’t stop for the next six years.

Six. Years!

I won’t bother going into all the nitty gritty details. Many of you already know them (and if you don’t and you’d like to, you can read my post, Confession: I Was a Shameful Closeted Writer). In a nutshell, my manuscript was optioned by a Hollywood producer, and after two long years of rewrites, revisions, and rejections from publishers my contract expired. And, suddenly, I was back to the same place I’d been four years earlier after I’d finished my first manuscript.

Only this time my heartbreak was a hundred times worse.

It took me about six months to put myself back together, but once I did, I forced myself to ask that terrible question again: “Now what?”

The answer didn’t come as easy as the first time, but I was able to accept it: Move on. So, I threw myself into an NYC Midnight writing challenge and started a brand new novel. For a few months I felt good. Really good. Happy!

Then I received an unexpected email from the producer who’d optioned my manuscript. He wanted to know if I was working on the latest draft and what my plans were for it.

I honestly didn’t know how to react. Excited? Horrified? Grateful? Resentful?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my story and I still had dreams of seeing it on bookshelves and screens someday. But…I wasn’t ready to return to it. Emotionally and creatively, I needed to focus on something else–something new–something different. I needed to learn, grow, and explore my strengths and weaknesses. I needed to figure out who I was as a writer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my instincts. Instead, I put aside my new project and returned to the old one.

Okay, I didn’t immediately regret my decision, but as I worked day after day, week after week, month after month, I began feeling things I shouldn’t feel while working on a novel: Resentment. Annoyance. Anger.

By January–a year after I’d begun rewriting my novel–it hit me: I no longer had the passion, drive, and other traits I needed to get me through another round of rewrites, revisions, and rejections. I no longer had the stamina to reach the finish line. All I had fueling me was stubbornness, pride, and a compulsion to please others.

And that was a BIG problem.

So, once again, I forced myself to step back and ask that terrible question: “Now what?”

I knew the answer, but I struggled to accept it. How could I move on? How? I had put another year’s worth of work into this story, had sent it off to beta readers for feedback, and had a producer in Hollywood who wanted to help me. I couldn’t move on. I needed to finish it. I needed to.

But…I didn’t want to.

But I had to.

But…


At last, I did what I had done nearly seven years before, back when I had to make a decision about my first manuscript: I turned to my mom for honest advice.

Our conversation was much tougher than before, because unlike my first manuscript, this one had played a major role in our lives. For six years, it had dominated our time, minds, and hearts. It had become part of the family. But, after a lot of debating, hemming and hawing, and–finally–confessing how unhappy I was, my mom said two words that helped me make my decision: “It’s okay.”

It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to try something new. It’s okay to move on.

So, I did.

It’s been four months since I made my decision to put my old novel to rest–again–and start writing a new one. And I haven’t regretted it for a second. I know I made the right decision…even if others out there do not.

And, yes, there are people in my life who think I made the wrong decision. I’ve heard things like, “You’re so close! Don’t give up!” And, “It takes some writers decades, if not longer, to get a story right.” And, my personal favorite, “You just need to keep at it. Writing a book takes a lot of work.”

Besides rolling my eyes, these opinions haven’t fazed me. If anything, they’ve strengthened my resolve. Because, you know what? Throughout all of this, I’ve learned an important lesson:

The only person who can decide what to do with a story is the person who writes it.

Whether that means you stay with it or move on, the decision is yours. You’re the one who will have to spend days–months–years working on it. You’re the one who will have to dedicate your mind and heart to an imaginary world. You’re the one who will have to feel the sting of rejection, over and over again. You’re the one who will have to live the entire experience. Not others. You.

Therefore, you’re the one who gets to decide when it’s time to step back and ask, “Now what?”

And you’re the one who gets to say, “Stay” or “Move on.”

move-onIf moving on terrifies you like it terrifies me, remember this: Stories aren’t like people or jobs. If you change your mind, you can return to them. Whether it’s a week or twenty years, stories will always be there waiting for you to come back and finish them.

So, how about you? Have you ever had to make the difficult decision to move on from a story?

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Confession: Rejection Has Made Me Stronger

So, 2015 hasn’t gotten off to the best start for me. Since January 1st, life has punched me in the gut more than a few times. I won’t go into details, but things have been rough lately–emotionally and financially. And it seems every time I regain my balance, something else happens and I’m knocked down again.

Last week, during a conversation with my family, I threw my hands up in the air and declared, “That’s it! The only way I can handle the negative is by being positive.”

Right after I said that, it hit me: My writing and alllll the rejection that has come with it has made me a stronger person.

Yes, as strange as it sounds, rejection has strengthened me. Years and years of “No!” from agents, publishers, and readers has made me more determined, more resilient, and more optimistic.

How, you ask? Well, let me explain.

Big dreams take a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of perseverance. Every day, you’re forced to find “the light at the end of the tunnel,” even when there isn’t one. When your tank runs out of gas, you have to keep trucking along. When you get knocked down, the only thing you can do is pick yourself back up and fight ten times harder.

And it’s that “never say die” attitude that has gradually seeped into the rest of my life: Family. Work. Relationships. Finances. Health. When the going gets tough, I get tougher. When things around me fall apart, I pull them back together. When every possible solution fails, I find another–or make one up and pray to God it works.

Honestly, if I hadn’t heard “No!” again and again during my long writing journey, I wouldn’t be who I am today, I’d crumble easier, I’d lose hope faster, and I’d constantly get bogged down in the past and refuse to look to the future.

So, let me reassure all of you who are feeling down and out because you’ve received yet another “Thanks, but no thanks” response to a query letter, or a bad review, or some other form of “No!”

It’s okay.

Really.

I know rejection hurts–a lot. But, I promise, it will make you stronger in the long run. Whether you’re aware of it or not, every “No!” will thicken your skin, fuel your determination, and teach you the fine art of optimism.

And, before you know it, those valuable traits will carry over into all aspects of your life.

…Especially those “punch in the gut” moments that drop you to your knees and try to keep you down. Thanks to rejection, you’ll have the strength to get back up and keep moving. Keep fighting. Keep hoping.

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1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Confession: I Fear Sharing My Stories

Ever since I posted my first round story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, I’ve been a bit of a mess–anxious, queasy, stressed. Perhaps you find this reaction surprising–maybe even a little unbelievable–because I’ve always acted like sharing my work with you is no big deal. But, to be honest, it terrifies me.

Last week, when I hit the “publish” button on my blog to post Inevitable, I had a moment of pure panic. A million “what if” questions flew through my mind: What if people hate it? What if people laugh at me? What if this is the stupidest story I’ve ever written? What if I didn’t push myself hard enough? What if I offend someone by accident? What if. What if. What if…

 It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m sharing my story with a friend, a beta reader, or a complete stranger, I’m always petrified I’ll be judged, ridiculed, and/or ripped apart. The minute I put a story on my blog, or I hand chapters of my manuscript over to a beta reader, I experience a sharp twinge of anxiety, and my heart does a pitter-patter–stutter–halt!–boom-boom-boom! dance.

You’d think this fear would go away after years of sharing my work with others, but it hasn’t. I always experience a sickening sensation, followed by a silent chant of, “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”

Part of my fear stems from the worry people will read my work and think I’m someone I’m not. Let’s face it, many of my stories are on the darker side: Tragic. Morbid. Whacked out! I’m so scared people will read them and think, “Wowza, this chick is messed up!” Or, “Poor thing, she must have a terrible life.” Or, “Yeesh, this writer scares me.”

And, who knows? Maybe people do think those things about me? Maybe people see me as this:

When, in reality, I’m like this:

The only thing I can do to manage this particular fear is to explain to people my writing process. I like to tell them, “When I write, I’m not there. I’m pushed into a cage and locked up while my characters hijack the story. They’re the ones writing it, not me.”

Hmm, maybe I am a little crazy–ha!

But it’s the truth. When I sit down to write, I check “Jenna” at the door and let my characters orchestrate the plot. They tell me how the story is “supposed to go”. I do my best not to interfere as the outsider.

For example, when I started writing my short story, Chasing Monsters, I planned on telling a story about a little boy who’d witnessed a murder in the forest. But when I arrived at the murder scene, my characters said, “Um, no. That’s not going to happen. This is!” And they yanked the plot out of my hands and twisted it into something completely different and unexpected…It was horrible and beyond terrifying, and I did not want to write it.

I think I almost threw up when I posted Chasing Monsters on my blog. If there was ever a story people were going to judge me for, it was that one. Thankfully, nobody did–at least not to my face.

Truthfully, I’ve never been outright slammed for any of my stories. Of course, that’s not to say I’ve never had negative reviews, or had my feelings hurt by less than tactful individuals. Just this past weekend, I had someone send me feedback for Inevitable. They point blank said, “I didn’t like it at all.”

Yeah, that one hurt. But it’s okay. One of the things I’ve learned from sharing my work is not everyone will be a fan. Even if I have pure gold on my hands, someone out there will think it stinks. The best thing I can do is move on and let it go.

…Easier said than done, right?

The bottom line is I will always be afraid of sharing my work. Even if I become a New York Times bestselling author, I’ll struggle with the knowledge there are people out there reading my work and judging me in one way or another. And there will always be critics and, well, insensitive meanies who will tell me, “I didn’t like it at all.”.

But you know what? I can’t let my fears stop me. Even if I have an anxiety attack every time I press the “publish” button on my blog, or sit and stare at my email until my beta readers return with their feedback about my manuscript, I need to be willing to share my work. I need to suck it up and take the terrifying plunge.

If I don’t, how else will I discover my strengths and weaknesses? How else will I become the best writer I can be? There’s only so much I can learn on my own. Without constructive criticism from a variety of sources (friends, family, strangers, bloggers, other writers, etc.) I’ll never reach the next level.

And, really, I need to get used to people reading my stories if I want to be a published author. That’s kind of the point of all of this, isn’t it?

So, how about you? Do you fear others reading your stories? If so, why?

Related Articles:

What are you afraid of, dear writer?

Purging Your Writing Fear

Fear of Writing – 3 secrets of writer’s block

Photo Credits:

http://gifbuffet.tumblr.com/post/9431389021

http://imgfave.com/view/1351342

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20629796-fighting-for-you

http://seeyouinaporridge.blogspot.com/2014/07/confessions_30.html

http://silverscreenings.org/2014/04/25/day-6-the-great-villain-blogathon/

http://setsunajikan.blogspot.com/2012/08/34-ways-that-you-can-be-remarkable.html

http://borg-princess.livejournal.com/95677.html?thread=1791677

Confession: I’m a Method Writer. A Foolish One.

This weekend I was working on my manuscript when it suddenly occurred to me: I look like a complete moron when I write. I’m not talking about the way my lips move as I re-read my pages, or the way my eyes glaze over when I drift off into the Never Never Land of my imagination, or the awesome way my face screws up when I smash into a plot wall. No, no, no. Those are merely dull ticks and nuances, ones I’m sure most writers experience.

I’m actually talking about my “method writer” moments. You know, the times when I shed me and transform into a character to understand them better–portray them better–write them better. If there was a hidden camera in the room with me then…Oi vey! I’d be so mort-i-fied!!

method-writer

Let me explain what I mean.

1. I like to act out my dialogue

I have to believe that all writers are actors on some level. After all, we are creating new worlds filled with new characters with varying personalities. We have to have the ability to open our minds and become someone else for a spell.

Personally, I like to take my manuscript and pretend it’s a script, especially when I’ve hit a rough patch and I’m not sure how a chunk of dialogue sounds. I sit up in my chair, give a firm throat clear, and reach for my inner Meryl Streep. Then I begin to recite my characters’ words. I dramatically raise my voice when someone SHOUTS! Or lower it to a faint hush when someone whispers. I growl, I sigh, I mumble, I curse…Whatever the “role” calls for, I play it accordingly. And I’m confident my renditions are always worthy of an Academy Award. 😉

Fear not, Meryl. Your job is safe.

2. I like to pretend I’m a martial arts whiz 

Haiyah! KaBlam! Splat!

Everyone loves a good fight scene. However, mapping out a confrontation on paper isn’t as easy as it seems. What makes sense in my head probably doesn’t make sense in reality. That’s why I like to stand up and physically plan it out–strike for strike, blow for blow, kick for kick. For example, in one of my manuscripts, I had a villain who was nifty with a knife. She was very graceful and very deadly. And her fight scenes were particularly challenging. To choreograph them I’d go into the kitchen, grab a butter knife, and spin around my living room, pretending pillows and chairs were targets.

I know, I know, it sounds brutal. But I assure you, if anyone happened to walk by and peer in my window during those “violent” moments, all they’d see was an idiot doing a jerky, awkward dance with a butter knife in her hand…or maybe a spatula or fly swatter. Whatever. It was pretend.

What can I say? The most “fighting” experience I have is a couple of Tae-Bo workouts and movies like 300 and Rocky.

 3. Stellllla! Emottttion!

Now, this is where I’d be truly horrified if I had a camera recording me while I wrote. I’m sure the look on my face when I’m typing out a death scene, or a confrontation between two friends, or a girl being dumped by her knight in shining armor is priceless.

universal_emotionCringing, wincing, frowning. Perhaps gasping for air or pretending to weep. Sometimes I’ll go over to a mirror and study my expression closely to make sure I’m portraying a certain emotion “correctly”. Crinkled brow, wide eyes, slightly parted lips, etc. Once I’m satisfied I’ve nailed the right look, I’ll run back to my computer and describe what I saw in finer detail.

Oh, just wait. It gets better.

A lot of my brainstorming and scene plotting occurs while I’m driving to and from work. As I hit the road, I pull up my “book” playlist on my iPod, sit back, and let my imagination open up. Eventually, a song comes on that strikes inspiration. I eagerly crank up the volume and start creating a scene in my head, or embellishing one I’ve already written. While the song plays, I add depth to the scene–add emotions. Anger, sadness, heartache, whatever. When the song ends, I punch the replay button and listen to it again, this time adding more depth, more emotions…And you know what’s happening the entire time I’m doing this?

You got it. I’m wincing and frowning and fake weeping in my car while the buddy parked next to me at the red light is wondering, “What the hell is wrong with that chick?”

drive-ryan-gosling-21I really should invest in tinted windows…

4. To be zee character, I must speak like zee character…zee charicktah? Zee kareektah? Ah, crikey.

not-sure-if-speech-impediment-or-foreign-accentAs you can see, I’m fairly fluent in Accent. Give me any dialect and I can speak and write in it. Aye, it’s bloody hale ehzay, mate!

Okay, okay, I suck at writing with an accent. In fact, my ridikulos dialect skills was the original inspiration for writing this confession. I was working on some dialogue for an Irish fella in a manuscript and started saying his lines out loud to help myself “hear” his accent better. I was enunciating every word, every syllable, every letter. About three lines in, I abruptly stopped, horrified and amused by my lame attempt to mimic an Irish brogue.

Honestly, if my computer could speak, it would politely ask me what planet I was from since it failed to detect any similar linguistics on earth. I swear, I’m like Joey on Friends when after 20 hours of dialect lessons, his southern accent still comes out Jamaican.

I suppose if I must act like a fool to create a good story, then I’ll suck it up and do it. I’ll just always pray there’s no hidden cameras on me :-). So, how about you? Do you have method writer moments, too? If so, how would you judge your performance? Two thumbs up? Or get-that-camera-off-of-menow!?

Confession: I was a shameful closeted writer

Up until November 18th, 2010, my creative life was a quiet one. Very quiet. Well, practically non-existent to the naked eye. Besides my immediate family, nobody knew I dreamed of one day being a published author. I always wrote in the privacy of my bedroom; I saved my manuscripts under names like “Comparative Politics Study Guide 2” (no joke); and I never–ever–shared my stories or ideas with anyone. I was too scared, too shy. Worse, I was ashamed.

How could I declare to the world I wanted to be a writer? Me? What right did I have? I didn’t even have an English or writing degree. I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, and that just didn’t count in the land of make believe. I knew–just knew–if I told people the truth, I’d be mocked and ridiculed. Everyone would judge me–laugh at me–tell me I was a wannabe that needed to go back to school and get the proper credentials.

knew it.

bullying_girlsSo I kept my mouth shut, my head down, and my writing dreams hidden. For. Years! Even after I landed a job as a copywriter at a Denver ad agency, I didn’t tell people about my creative aspirations.

Then on a sunny November morning I walked into work and everything changed. (Dun, dun dun…)

I grabbed a coffee, said “Hey” to a co-worker I only ever said “Hey” to, and sat down at my desk. Thirty minutes later, the computer systems unexpectedly crashed. With nothing else to do but look at a black screen, I swiveled around in my chair to chat with my co-workers…Well, co-worker. Mr. “Hey” was the only one there. I cringed and almost swiveled right back around, but then stopped. Why not talk to him? We’d only been working ten feet apart from each other for six months. It was about time I got to know him better. So, we started talking. For awhile, our conversation revolved around normal stuff (the weather, our jobs, our co-workers).

Then out of the blue, Mr. “Hey” asked me, “Jenna, what do you do?”

I stared at him blankly. “What do I do?” What the heck did that mean?

 He grinned. “I mean what do you do as a writer? What are your goals? I doubt you want to work here the rest of your life, right?”

I glanced around nervously. The building was still empty. Our bosses weren’t in yet. Nobody was. It was just me and him. I swallowed hard, unsure how to respond. This was the first time anyone had ever asked me that question. And it was the last one I wanted to answer. What if he judged me–laughed at me–told me I was a loser wannabe?

“I want to write books!” I blurted out before my lifelong fears could stifle me. “I want to be an author.”

To my surprise, he didn’t judge or laugh at me. And he didn’t call me a wannabe loser. Actually, he looked impressed.

Rather than feeling pleased about this, I felt weird, like an impostor. Mr. “Hey” didn’t know I wasn’t qualified to claim such a lofty ambition. He didn’t know I lacked an English degree. He didn’t know I had zero writing experience. He didn’t even know the only reason I’d been offered a writing gig at our company was because my resume included a summer internship at a prestigious advertising firm (and that internship had been in the account management department).

But, before I could confess any of this to him, Mr. “Hey” began pummeling me with questions: What types of books do you like to write? What genre? Have you ever written a book before? If so, what’s it about? I was so overwhelmed by his creative interrogation, I ended up answering him honestly.

“I’m working on a young adult manuscript,” I said.

He nodded thoughtfully. “That’s cool.” Cool. AKA, dumb. AKA, loser.

To hide my shame, I smiled and swiveled back around to face my computer. The screen was lit up. Relief coursed through me. Our systems were up and running again. I didn’t need to talk to Mr. “Hey” anymore. Our embarrassing conversation was over. I could now scurry back into my safe little writer’s closet and hide once again. Yet, as I opened my files and documents to start working, an inner voice said, “Be brave! Tell him about your story. Don’t hold back now.”

I spun back around. “My story is about…” and I gave him the one line synopsis.

His eyes went HUGE! I couldn’t tell if he was shocked? Confused? Amazed? Trying to refrain from bursting into hysterical laughter? Before I could figure out his wide-eyed expression, he leaned forward.

“Would you mind if I introduced you to a PR exec in Hollywood?”

Hollywood?

Yeah…

So, come to find out Mr. “Hey” was an up and coming screenwriter and he’d recently acquired representation in L.A. He had kept his starry success a secret because he was afraid everyone would clobber him–ask him for advice, listen to their pitch, help them find representation too, etc. But he didn’t want to help anyone unless their idea was worth helping. And, I guess in his eyes, my idea was.

Yeah…

Suffice it to say, I was stunned and, obviously, excited. But, more than anything, I was guilt-ridden. I couldn’t let this conversation go on until I confessed the brutal truth to my new bestie: I wasn’t a qualified writer. I didn’t have the right degree. I didn’t know what I was doing! You know what his response was?

“So what?”

Huh? So what? So what? No. I couldn’t accept his indifferent response. I couldn’t! Not when I’d always believed I had to have the correct credentials to join the official writer’s club. So–in a voice that flirted with desperation–I said, “But, trust me, I read. A lot! I’ve studied how it’s done!” (Yes, I actually spoke these words…*throat clear*)

Mr. “Hey” shrugged. “Well, you know what they say: the best readers are the best writers.” No, I didn’t know people said that, but I was happy to hear it, because I was the best reader in the world!

With my guilty conscience appeased, I gave Mr. “Hey” the green light to introduce me to his high-powered friends in L.A. And he did. By the next evening, I was on the phone with a PR executive reminiscent of Ari Gold.

(Two words to describe that 45-minute call: Heart. Attack.).

A few days later, I was on the phone again, this time with a big wig agent who’d represented writers like Nora EphronNora Ephron, for God’s sake. With no idea how I’d landed in the midst of such an elite group of professionals, I agreed to talk next to a producer based on Paramount Studios. That call led to a two-year option contract. (Meaning this producer had the right to make my story into a movie; but I made sure part of the deal was my manuscript had to get published first).

As you might imagine, my blood pressure was through the roof during this entire process. I felt like an adrenaline junkie; like I’d been set on fire and bungee jumped off of the world’s tallest bridge straight into an ocean of great white sharks. AHHHH!

Okay, let’s stop and rewind for a second, back to these phone calls I had.

During each of these petrifying conversations, I always did my best to play it cool and act like I belonged; like I totally deserved to be on the phone with these hotshots and I wasn’t at all scared to be speaking with them. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t silence my closet writer shame. I had to tell each of these men the truth, just like I did with Mr. “Hey”. After every pitch I gave, I always tacked on this quiet disclaimer: “Just so you know, I don’t have an English degree or anything like that.” Or, in other words, “I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not technically qualified to be talking to you.”

You want to know their answers? Laughter! Followed by some version of, “I don’t care. What matters is you can write and you have ideas.”

I couldn’t believe it. All of this time…All of my fears…All of my shame. It was worthless! Unnecessary. I’d been hiding in a dark writer’s closet for no good reason. My hopes and dreams were acceptable. Accepted. I didn’t need to have an English degree to prove myself. As long as “the proof was in the pudding,” I’d be good to go.

biopic1_1384542409Alas, in the end, my optioned manuscript never went anywhere. It’s how the business cookie crumbles. Some projects fly, many flounder. However, I don’t regret a second of my roller coaster journey. Not. At. All! How could I? Not only did I receive valuable industry experience and in-depth feedback from multiple professionals in L.A. and New York (including extensive critiques from an agent at Writers House), but I received validation.

I am a writer.

I. Am. A. Writer.

It doesn’t matter I don’t have a degree in a writing field. It doesn’t matter I’ve basically taught myself “how it’s done.” If I have the passion, the skill, the ideas, and the determination, I can do this. I can write! And, yeah, perhaps this manuscript didn’t take flight the way I’d hoped, but I’m confident it will someday. More importantly, I’m 100% confident I’ll never–ever–again hide in my shameful writer’s closet. That door is locked and bolted. I couldn’t get back in even if I wanted.

untitled So, listen, I didn’t write this confession today to tell you I think English and writing degrees are worthless. Heck no! Trust me, I still wish I had that beautiful credential on my resume. Why wouldn’t I? Knowledge equals power, right?

What I am saying is that if you want to be a writer, don’t let anything hold you back. Not your lack of education, not your fear, not your shame, and definitely not that cruel inner voice, the one that whispers, “You can’t be a writer.” Believe me, you can. And you deserve to pursue your writing dream. Whether that’s as a novelist, a poet, a screenwriter, a journalist, a copywriter…whatever! If you want it, you go for it.

So go! Shout out and tell the whole wide world you’re a writer and you’re proud of it. You may as well. You never know who’ll be listening. I surely didn’t when I walked into work that November morning.

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