March 31st, 2021

The Simple Writing Resolution that Changed My Career

by Jenny Hansen

A little over ten years ago, I wrote a post that changed my trajectory as a writer. Writing this post literally pulled me back from that edge of giving up the thing I most love to do. It was January, 2011 and one simple resolution saved me. In these crazy pandemic times, I thought perhaps someone else could use the words of encouragement.

Some background on what was going on with me...

  • I'd just lived through the kind of pregnancy where the chance of everyone dying is incredibly real and I had a mild case of post-partum depression.
  • That baby I worked so hard for was about eight months old.
  • I was really really ill with what I realized later was an insane allergy to gluten.

You'll read the rest in the post, but I was very much in danger of losing my writing. The details and the chaos of my life were pounding against my creativity, washing it away like waves on the sand, and I didn't have the mental or physical resources to turn the tide.

The Post...

Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”

My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to show up for my writing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I thought so too until I spent 2010 showing up for everything else but my writing.

Now mind you, many of the things I showed up for were huge, life-changing events: a high-risk pregnancy, the birth of my first child, the loss of a treasured pet, the loss of my husband’s mother, our last living parent, moving from the home where I’ve lived for more than ten years. Plus there were the usual work, church, friend events that are important in keeping the day-to-day wheels of life running.

I continued to attend writing events where I could. Of course, I keep in close communication with my fellow members of Writers in the Storm, but I did not show up to my own works in progress on a regular basis. And it showed.

Laura Drake, our goal-oriented mover and shaker here at WITS, started making noises on New Year’s Eve for all of us to post our writing goals for the year (hers – in plural – were done). With the daily added tasks of a new baby, along with a husband and a job, her initial enthusiastic encouragement sounded like a loud, jarring squawk.  Writing goals for the YEAR? I could barely get to a writing goal for the week and my personal goals read something like “start exercising and get some sleep.”

Still, my Christmas present to myself was taking time each day to read at least two essays from Julia Cameron’s “The Sound of Paper” and I was immersing myself in the delight of her pages each morning for about 20 minutes while I ate breakfast. She discusses at length that “the role of an artist is to show up for the work and allow it to move through them.”

I sat weeping at my breakfast table on December 30th as I thought about this very simple answer to my writing angst – a derivation of the answer that I give to people starting out in a new career. "When you aren’t sure what to do, do something. Even if what you’re doing isn’t “THE” thing, you are out there showing up each day so you will be ready when the perfect thing comes along."

My Epiphany

I was crying because I hadn’t been following my own advice, especially when it came to writing.

I hadn’t understood that I just had to show up. I thought I had to build a writing temple, a schedule, a process, develop some sort of structure, all so the muse would have a set destination to show up to (and yes, I’m aware about how colossally dumb this sounds now that I’m writing it out loud for you).

My tears sprang from the joy and relief that I didn’t have to be somebody who had it together. My creative spirit could find me anyway. I just had to plop my overtired, cranky, insanely disorganized self down in front of whatever writing surface was handy, as often as possible.

That was it, my huge epiphany that year:

Show up to the page and the creative spirit will move through you if you stop trying to tell it how it needs to act, who it should be and what it should be saying. Park your inner control freak somewhere far from the page and just write. The rest will come.

My Resolution

With the above lesson in mind, I made a writing resolution that could fit into the life I had, rather than the life I wished for. (Of course, that dream life was filled with huge blocks of free time.)

My vow? Show up to the page for five hours a week.

As my daughter learned to crawl, walk, and run, I wrote. Sometimes it was a blog, sometimes it was a scene or a story. Whatever it was, I sent all my previously ordered notions about specific numbers of pages or chapters to the thrift shop for poor writerly habits and dead goals, along with all the other items I’d outgrown or stopped using. All those "shoulds" and negative self-talk ever did for me was stress me out during what was already a full-up busy, blissful, chaotic time.

Five hours a week -- or three, or even one when my baby girl was sick -- was a decadent gift to my creative self. Even when I had to break the time into twenty-minute chunks and set a kitchen timer, getting back to the page was an act of defiance and beauty and love. And for this new mom, it was as luxurious as a long, hot bubble bath.

Have you ever thought of chucking your writing over the proverbial cliff? What pulled you back from the edge? How did you get past it?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

Top Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

40 responses to “The Simple Writing Resolution that Changed My Career”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    So glad you found your way back, Jenny. You're proof that showing up works!
    And just to topple me off the pedestal - I'm learning that I don't need to be on a hamster wheel ALL the time. Who knew?

  2. Akhlis says:

    I'm glad you keep on writing till now. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming post. Hope your creative endeavor and you and your family keep on going strong in this pandemic. Cheers...

  3. Jenny,

    I'm so proud of your resilience and brilliance. Your mom would be so proud of you too.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ahhh, Margie... Yours is the first comment I read this morning and BOOM, all the emotion of that time, when I missed my mother terribly, came right back. Thanks for all the momming-energy you push my direction! I need it and I appreciate it. xoxoxo

  4. I'm going through this now. Lack of commercial success (where success is defined as "not dumping a bunch of money I'll never see again into editing and covers") has me questioning the value of my efforts.

    The good news is that I meet another writer in a sprint room five days a week. Hoping your "just show up" philosophy gets me through this.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That is a terrible feeling, Jeanne...to give years of effort and money and time and not know if it's worth it. This is such a cruel aspect of this writing life.

      Here is what I hope for you. I hope the joy of the page, the love of the story, the freedom and bliss of your creative process comes back to you. I hope that you are able to shampoo your mind, approach the page and enjoy yourself. I hope you are able to let go of your previous expectations about what your writing career should look like and immerse yourself into a story that gives you joy.

      But for today, I hope that you are able to just dig deep and find the courage to approach the page. That's it. One day, even one page is all you need to master.

      We believe in you.

  5. lrtrovi says:

    Your post showed up as I'm inching closer to that same cliff. I keep asking myself if I would be happier if I just gave up. I would not torture myself over whether my work was "good enough" any more. I'd be free from lit agent rejections and the tyrrany of book sales and reviews. I keep thinking I'm just not working hard enough or following the advice of the marketing and writing gurus zealously enough...and all of it was just depleting my creativity and the joy of writing in the first place. SORRY for the long comment, but THANKS for your post.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      lrtrovi, you have no idea how often you make our day over here at WITS, just by showing up and giving what you have that day. You, and other readers like you, are why WE show up year after year.

      I hear that nasty "S" word lurking under your comment. Should. I hate that damn word. It has sucked the joy out of me (and other writers) way too many times. I believe that our truest muse comes from joy and vulnerability. Those two things keep the creativity nurtured.

      See my comment to Jeanne right above yours. You aren't alone, and we understand.

      I'm wishing you the joy!

  6. barbaralinnprobst says:

    Jenny, this is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. As someone who's only "known" you through monthly "here's my blog" emails, I knew nothing about your story or who you really are. I'm in awe of your brave and honest and beautiful spirit. Thank you.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Awwwww....thanks Barbara! That was a very dark and difficult time in my life and I'm happy it's behind me.

      One of the many reasons I love WITS is that it helped pull me through that. Incidentally, this journey is part of my memoir.

  7. Love this, Jenny. Glad to hear things are better for you now too! <3

  8. Ah Jenny, you have given all of us so much encouragement through the years. I'm sorry you went through such a hard time, but in a way, it's good to hear that YOU--who I think of as perpetually cheerful and motivated--suffered doubts. I've been a writer for a long, long time, and I've never been closer to chucking it all than I am now, after a memoir and six published novels, because the novel I spent so long researching and writing still hasn't found a home, and my agent just gave back my NEW book (a suspense novel, my first try at it) with an editorial letter and feedback that amounted to "Start over!" What keeps me going, I think, is the same thing most of us find: Life is always full of ups and downs, but if you're writing, no matter how little, there's a portal of escape from the ordinary, and you come out of that writing journey feeling stronger even if the writing is BAD, which all first drafts are. The important thing is to always show up for yourself and your own work, and not for the market or your agent or your writing group or any other reason. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Holly, you've always been such a steady, lovely bright spot in my writing life. Through WITS, through Margie forums, and through your stories, you simply shine. And your stories are lovely, even if so many in the publishing industry are running around like scared chickens, afraid to commit.

      I hope they commit to you and your story soon. And if they don't, I hope you are able to. Like I said, I think it's an act of courage and defiance, when you've got nothing at all left of your reserves and you say "eff it - I'm going to do what I love just for me."

      Thanks for giving your time and energy these many years to be my bright spot! 🙂

  9. Jenny, I'm so blessed to have you and Laura and Margie and so many other catch-not-just-chase-your-dream people along on my journey.

    It's become so very clear that there's no one right way to be an author. And that's the horrible, and yet wonderful thing about it: we don't have to worry about fitting in. "I will never fit in. And I'm pretty sure that's one of my best qualities." I keyed those words into my current novel yesterday. I spoke that message through my heroine. It came from my soul. They are me. Jenny, you are me too. I cannot imagine this current chapter in my life without you.

    Butts in chairs, fingertips on keyboards...they're just the Go square on our Monopoly board. They allow us to pour and pound out gems like "Weddings are just funerals with cake," or "It's sad when someone you know becomes someone you knew," or "Flowers grow back even after being stepped on. You can too." I can't give birth to babies, but I can give birth to those sentences with the unmatched arrangement of just 26 letters. Imagine that! Just 26!

    Thanks, Jenny, for sharing this chapter in your life with us because everyone has a chapter that he or she won't read aloud...but should.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Love this, Chris...thank you! --> "Thanks, Jenny, for sharing this chapter in your life with us because everyone has a chapter that he or she won't read aloud...but should."

      I'm ecstatic that you and all those people are in my life too! Writers need other writing peeps. Period. 🙂

  10. Love it! Writing warriors prevail, though the way is steep, narrow and not always clear. I trust the Muse with full attention and chunks of time. She always finds me because she IS me!

  11. Thank you for this post! Your story has been the whole of my last year (except the baby—it was my two adult children moving home to weather the pandemic with more baggage than just laundry), I couldn't write. My contracted WIP felt dark and depressing and overwhelming, my pub date was moved back a whole year. My doctor put me on antidepressants, and I gained 12 pounds. I was utterly stuck. I decided to go back and look at what worked in my wiring life in the past—getting up early and writing before anything else, writing in the morning to leave time for chores, and the care and feeding of family and pets in the afternoon. I plan and briefly outline the next day's block of writing before bed. Getting up at 5:30, getting to bed at 12:00 has been exhausting. Yes, I'm writing pages, but some days I couldn't tell you what's on them. I have roughly 150 pages to go on the draft, then it will need editing before it's submitted on deadline June 1. I plan to dedicate this book to my three amigos Exhaustion, Depression, and Anxiety—mostly because I fully intend to beat them all and get this book done. Yes, I am showing up, and writing with fierce determination (and a smidgen of desperation), and going forward. Thank you for reminding me that's all I have to do right now, and the words will come, and the book will get done. I have scheduled a very long nap for June 2...maybe June 2-5!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are a badass, Lecia! A Writing Warrior Ninja Badass! You dragged yourself through the suckitude to the page. You showed up, even when your energy and your writing joy was dragging ten feet behind you. And you have all but 150 pages ready for you to edit.

      I don't know if you've gained the perspective yet to be proud of yourself, but we're sure proud of you.

      (Badass! *points at Lecia*)

  12. How fortunate everyone is, including me, that you made it through that time. And oh how I smile just thinking of the lovely little girl who represents all that went right when it most needed to do so.

    I've tried to give up writing, I really have. I'd wander around, empty my mind, and creativity would fill it. Writing, it would seem, won't let me go. I've always been an introverted rebel and I live for writing the stories I search for, but can't find. I've made my peace with that. Still, I hope to share with the world, but recognize the barriers I face. So, for now, I keep writing, editing, and ignoring the clock that is my time. I'm extraordinarily prolific and must believe my elusive path will appear. Thank you for lifting me, Christina, up today.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks for giving a lift back, Christina! I think it's wonderful that your creativity follows you. There's a comfort and security in that statement that many here will envy.

      My one and only baby girl is 11 and she is a delightful human being. I truly believe she's why I survived all of the various things that let to the highest of high-risk pregnancies. The world needed her (and so do I)!

  13. Jacquolyn McMurray says:

    Jenny - Thank you for sharing your story of emerging stronger from a dark period in your life. I wonder how many talented writers have given up because they cling to the expectations of others or feel they are failures? I'm so glad you found your way back to your creative self.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Jacquolyn, I think you nailed it with: "I wonder how many talented writers have given up because they cling to the expectations of others or feel they are failures?"

      The entire reason I've remained engaged by Writers In the Storm all these years is that I see these beautiful writers bowed under the weight of their fears and all the "shoulds" that erode their spirits. The creativity and talent is tied to the spirit, and it gets crushed. Propping up these writers is labor of love because I have soooo been there!

  14. Charmaine Wakefield says:

    Thank you. An inspiring message and much understood.

  15. This is beautiful, Jenny. Even five hours is impressive with what you were going through. I reach the "chuck-it" stage a couple times a year, but fortunately it passes quickly before I need a plan to stay, (or make a plan to leave). But in other areas of life, I set a "can't say no" goal. If 5 hours feels overwhelming, how about 3? Still overwhelming? How about 1? You get the drift. At some point, the goal is so ridiculously easy, I can't say no to it, and then I have my sweet spot. BTW - I LOVE this: "My creative spirit could find me anyway." I'm so glad it did!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I actually feel like blogging saved my writing, Karen. I could sit down and write a post for WITS or (even more fun) for my now-dusty blog, More Cowbell. It allowed me to write short things when my baby was taking up my energy and still interact with people while I was rising to the challenge of being a mostly-stay-at-home mom. It was a very unique and emotional time for me.

  16. Barb DeLong says:

    Thank you for sharing your emotional journey back to the creative life. I have tears in my eyes. I'm awed by people like you who finally power through and find their joy. I made so many writing resolutions through the years that making them became meaningless. But the Covid lockdown glued me to a chair and I finished my book, edited it and am almost ready to start querying thanks to Laura Drake and the Margie Lawson Submissions class I just finished today. I also tucked in a 6,500 word short story for an anthology. Lockdowns are lifting but I know I've created the habit now of sitting down for 4-5 hours a day. When I don't, I become anxious to get to it. Write on!

  17. dholcomb1 says:

    This past year has been such a challenge. My high school student goes back into the classroom next week, and I'm hoping it will help.

    I've also had this non-writing albatross around my neck, and I think I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, in a positive way, and that would free up a lot of time and energy.

    Denise

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I've learned so many things about myself during this pandemic, Denise! One of them is that I like being at home in my house when it's quiet. It is an entirely different animal, with the whole family at home with me. Soooooooo not peaceful!

  18. jamesr403 says:

    What an inspiring essay! Thank you, Jenny.

  19. Julie Glover says:

    Great advice and inspiration! In fact, I've been thinking about how, when I get through my current difficult season, I might not jump right back into everything. Rather, I will give myself the space to write a single hour a day, six days a week. That may be what I can manage for a while, but that would bring me a lot of joy. 💜

  20. Diana Beebe says:

    Oh, Jenny, I really needed to read this today. About 17 years ago, I did quit writing for about a decade. I'd had a miscarriage, and I couldn't handle how dark my current WIP was. I know now there were other things influencing my choice. But a decade later, I couldn't get that book out of my head, so I had to finish it. Lately, writing has been hard. I love the idea of showing up whenever possible, even if that's a few hours a week--and being kind to yourself and accepting that is just the way it is right now.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Diana! How lovely to see you here. *waves joyfully*

      There is nothing like grief and hormones to make a writer want to just chuck it all. I'm so sorry you experienced that 17 years ago.

      During and after my pregnancy, I was just empty - like all my creativity had been sucked right out of me. I literally could not imagine how I was going to get back to the page. Julia Cameron was my angel and I will be forever grateful for The Sound of Paper and that quiet morning in December.

      Your writing is lovely, and I can't wait to see what kind of magic will spring from you just showing up as often as you can.

      I have a refrigerator magnet that says, "Having it 'all together' is like trying to eat 'once and for all.'" We are all just messy amazing works in progress. 🙂

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