“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
― Kurt Vonnegut
“Thanks for submitting, again, Jen. Third time, or in your case the 15th time this month, is not always a charm. We’ve decided to pass. But thanks, really.” –July 2011
I’m living in Los Angeles, fresh out of college and submerging quickly into my very first job post-grad, as a traveling consultant for a sorority, before I’m living back at home in my childhood room spooning with quite the collection of mint condition Beanie Babies and ancient artifacts of Tamogatchis and Pogs. I’m unemployed and an excerpt from my resume reads something like this: proficient at making mashups of Shakespeare Sonnets and Jay-Z lyrics.
We sometimes feel we have nothing…
A little bit over two years ago, I took a break from writing. Kind of like how people take “breaks” from their relationship to embark on some sort of emotionally chaotic journey in hopes of desperately figuring out what, or who, they really want—yet, they still speak every night and sneak smooches here and there. I took this hiatus to flirt with the idea that I wanted to be a motivational speaker after the briefly lived thought that I wanted to be the person who dresses the mannequins at Forever21.
But I couldn’t help bursting out the occasional anecdote. On napkins at early bird specials in Boca Raton, Florida. On the notepad of my iPhone while I was bored on a first date. On the frosted glass of my shower door after suddzing up my elbows.
…until we decide we want more.
I was working at a magazine as an editor. But really I was scrubbing dog poop stains out of carpet and decorating the Publisher’s house in Christmas decorations. I was doing everything but writing, really. So in between organizing her shopping receipts and sweeping the floor of her garage, I spit out articles on the side and sent them everywhere. Mostly to this new-ish website for Millenials called Thought Catalog. But all I heard, all I ever heard, was a blunt “No, thanks”, or even more often, nothing.
And then we work harder…
Two years ago, today, I’m celebrating my Great Aunt’s 92nd birthday, stuffing down a roll of bread the size of my knee cap, listening to her whisper sweet nothings to me across the table. And by whisper, I mean shout, at full-volume, because her hearing aid and her age, make her care less about how or what she says.
Jennifer, I’m verklempt, the boys must be lining up. She screams before she’s silent.
The Jewish ones don’t wait in line. I mumble through the incessant chewing of garlic bread.
Remember, date the doctors. A dentist, Jennifer! A dentist.
There are conversations, like that one, which stick in your mind for a really long time, for all the wrong reasons. And then there are conversations that make you leave the dinner table with the urge to be and to do and to want something more, something else.
Everyone wants to live until they are old. She kisses me on the check, her frosted coral colored lipstick becomes a temporary tattoo on my face, and before she enters the passenger seat of her son’s red Mercedes, she says, But let me tell you, it’s not that great. Don’t wait around for things to happen in life, okay?”
That night I rushed home. Threw open the screen of my computer and published my very first post on a website that I intended to use as a platform to expose stories like that one, based on the things that won’t escape our minds. I wanted to give those stories a place to live, to breathe, and to inspire. I started The Things I Learned From.
…until we have that everything.
And then one Sunday afternoon, at the cusp of May 2013, my phone rings as I’m avoiding bruises from tourists and their shopping bags in Herald Square. It’s Thought Catalog and two years later they want me and this blog. And then very soon after that, I found myself sitting in front of a contract for an eBook, right before I found myself shaking hands with a guy who wanted to invest his time and his energy in my stories, and in me, as my agent.
I’m here now, with you, two years later. I’ve written hundreds of stories for this site and many others, that I convinced with endless persistence and courageous guts that I was capable of writing something that would slap their readers across the face—in the most delicate and honest way.
My inbox often entertains letters from some of you asking me how. Passionately confessing in the most raw and kind way that you have desires to be a writer and to be successful at it. Asking me what my secret is. As if I have one. As If all of this was cultivated with one simple click or in the amount of time that it takes for me to devour a fresh pie of pizza (which is only about 8 minutes, really). There’s no secret. And you’ll learn that about most things in life: diets, finding true love, getting that unbelievable job title. There’s no simple answer or way about it. If you want to be a writer, to be anyone or have anything, stop trying. Really. Stop walking around telling people what you want and how badly you want it. Take all that time, that energy, those words, and do something with them.
All of the advice I could possibly give you, right now, boils down to this:
Work hard and then when you think you’re done or when you think it’s time to rest, work harder. I made sure to post once a week, no matter what. When my mind was all like, umm, i have nothing to write about. Or, I’d rather be off eating an overpriced brunch with my gal pal’s, I ignored all of that and wrote. I wrote in the most exotic places, too (my shower, on the subway, while waiting in line for $1 slices of pizza). Prove to yourself that excuses like “I’m too busy” or “I can’t write, here” are silly and pathetic.
Never, and I really mean never, give up. I’ve received more “No, thanks” than I have “Sure, we’ll publish you”. I’ve had more people in my life telling me to STOP writing and start trying to do something else. Heck, my high school journalism teacher told me when I was 14 that I wasn’t a good writer, at all and that I should make arrangements to study something else. I owe much of my determination and success to his disgusting words. For every rejection or “you’re not good enough” response I received, I spent approximately three hours doing something to prove that person wrong. Your drive is as important as your talent.
That’s it. Now it’s time to celebrate.
The Things I Learned From and I are really glad you’re here.
I noticed that whenever I write, my heart starts to burn. And that may be from acid reflux, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just an indiciation that this all feel so right. That writing is what makes me feel so alive. I hope you understand.
So, thank you for reading, and thank you for giving my stories a heartbeat.
[An endless thank you to my family. The only people who never laughed in my face when I was seven, prancing around in a tutu, declaring that when, and If I had to, grow up, I’d grow up to be a writer. Your head nodding and gentle pushes have kept me moving along. Love is accepting the wild, so thank you for loving me.]
[Double thanks to my bizz manager, Jay Glantz, for giving my website the makeover it deserves. But really, he deserves a giant hug for his patience with me as I often dance in the clouds with radical requests and stubborn ideas. You’re the absolute best.]