How to Quit Life, Write a Book, Go Mad, and Follow Your Dream (Whatever It Is)… Especially when it scares you pantsless

First, you will need to have sex. Not literal sex, although that may work. But literary sex. You will need to become enraptured in the throngs of your passion and let yourself accept the pregnant mission that for the next nine months, you will feel the most hot and bothered awkwardness of your life. You will stretch. You will become moody. You will feel uncomfortable and people will stare at you. You will develop weird cravings, such as journaling at 4 am and eating wasabi chickpeas, and you will probably forget to shower most of the time. This is the art. Embrace it. Tick your biological clock on, as now is the time. And if you don’t feel now is the time, you are wrong. But wait until you know it’s Now or Never.


Even though Never is a lie. 


But Now isn’t.


Once you have accepted the mission, find a place to brood. The space must bring air around your body and give you lots of breathing room, enough so you think you can procrastinate but actually don’t. It must be mystical enough to capture your fairytales but not so exotic that you’re on safari, writing from the back of an elephant down a jungle path. That will come later. For now, you will not have time to go elephant hunting each morning. You will only have time to get up and write at your desk. So make it a good desk because you don’t have time to spare.Which is a lie, because you will procrastinate alot.But when you sit down to write, write about all of life’s pleasures and pains and truly believe you have moved mountains in literature. Be excited and give your first page to a girlfriend who will read each line carefully, take a deep breath, and inform you your book is about your mother. This will piss you off greatly, as you know you are not writing about your mother, and there is no way in hell she is going to take centerstage in your opus. She takes over everything. 


Thank your friend in person, spurn her in private, and make a mental note that no one understands your genius.Then, read your work again and realize your friend is the genius. Your mother is not only a side character but THE character in your book and you are now writing the next neurotic Moby Dick. Vow to make your mother look as lovingly crazy as she can be, so she can make you millions, because everyone loves a story about a neurotic mother.


But then, you will need to forgive your mother. This is highly problematic. 


Most good writing is birthed out of familial hate but at some point you have to lay that down and eat broccoli. You will need to fly home, physically see your mother, and let her cook you dinner. You will need to let yourself seethe as she pretends you’re still five years old and tells you to eat your vegetables. This is the place of returning home. Where you realize you are writing about your mother because you avoidantly are her.


This will change everything.


After you return home, you may need to bury some things. Bury old pictures of your old boyfriends. Bury your sins. Bury your dog. This one will be the worst. Give me boys and burdens to bury but when your dog dies, a part of you goes six feet under with her. You will need to sing at her funeral next to the grave you dug on the top of the hill, so she could see the ocean, and thank her there that she journeyed with you all this way and, right now, of all times, somehow believes you are brave enough to move forward on your own. You will not understand how well she views you, how courageous she thinks you can be, and you will be very mad at her for thinking so highly of you. But you are her master and she will give you wings.


There, in the hot of summer, take a day of rest and lie down on an intertube and stare up at the sky. Let your skin reek of chlorine just like the old days. Eat a rocket pop whole. And make the decision you made when you were five. When you knew what you wanted to be when you grow up and know one told you it was stupid. You were a writer then and so make yourself one now.


Quit your job. Really. You may think you won’t need to, but there is no other way. Every woman in labor needs some bedrest. No job will give you maternity leave before your book is written, let alone published, so you will have to make up a lame excuse for resigning. You can blame your dog but she is dead and that is mean. Blame yourself. 


Sign up for an online Ph.D. Program even, blame your studies, and then drop out of that school with just a Masters degree, before they charge you tuition but after they give you student loans. Use the Federal Government for all its worth and let the loan become your benefactor. This way, when you sit down to write, you will see the 6.3% student loan interest accruing with each second, which will make you not procrastinate. Even though you will. But the sooner you finish the book, the sooner it can make you millions as a New York Times Bestseller and paying off Uncle Sam will seem like child’s play.


Keep thinking these far-fetched manic thoughts. You will need to believe that your project is the next untapped oil rig or else you will never finish. Even if it never sells, you need to believe you are sitting on a goldmine. You need to be arrogantly confident as you will have to listen to all the people who tell you it is stupid to quit your job, that the dream is in your head, and that frankly, you have no talent. Smile at them in person and then visualize punching them all in the groin because they are just jealous that you are about to be a starving artist.Fight back the tears when you hear yourself say the word “starving.” You will not starve. But you indeed may lose weight. But starving is not an option for pregnant women. Feed your growing child first – your baby fat will sustain you in the slow times.


You will have to get up early. Earlier than you did for any other job. You will have to go to bed each night at 10pm after you lay out your work clothes of your inspirational black tank top and leopard print yoga pants. This way, in the morning, you do not need to think. You just need to dress like a lioness, brew your coffee and proceed directly to work in your sacred spot. This is why its not a good idea to make your nest far away in the jungle. Its too hard to get to by 7 am and lionesses need time to stretch.Don’t wait for inspiration even though you will. 


You will have to be disciplined. Bookmark a tab on your Safari browser of cheesy inspirational quotes to encourage you. Read these cliche quotes on how divine inspiration happens through sweat and daily plodding, as you secretly seethe that someone is now internationally-known online for creating such a crappy quote. Let that be your inspiration — that your book will be way better than the online Safari bookmark, even if its about your neurotic mother and even when she is the only one that will buy your book.


Find a good therapist. All of your inner shit will hit the propeller as you are trying to take off on your dream. In therapy, you will have to forgive your mother again, after investing immense amounts of money deciding that you don’t have any issues with her anyway. But forgive the family again because you will soon need to ask them for help.This is the ultimate low point, as you are writing about your mom and now need her financial assistance to do so. This will be painful. You will feel like a failure. You will feel like you have lost your way but let yourself be helped. Remind yourself of Bono, when he asked his family for a loan to start his band. Imagine yourself as the next Bono, except in leather mini-skirt and without the Dublin accent. See yourself on the red carpet of Barnes and Nobles doing book signings with fabulously highlighted hair. Ignore the fact that Barnes and Nobles is going bankrupt because the economy has tanked, as have your finances and you are in your 30’s asking your mother for a loan. 


No. See yourself in lights. 


Remember, you will need to let yourself have illusions of grandeur or else you will never finish. Life will give you plenty more time later to feel like a failing peasant — for now, embrace your leather Marc Jacobs boots.


When mother agrees to help you, buy a sports car. A black sexy used convertible sports car with a turbo engine. Many people will think you are having a quarter life crisis because you quit your job and now have become a sun-cruising novelist. They are correct. But all good art is birthed through moments of craziness. There are good reasons millionaire mad scientists look like they stuck their finger in their own light socket. You need electricity pumping through your veins. You need to become slightly nuts, but not so nuts that you need extensive psychotropics, because you have no health insurance to fund them. Hence, the reason for the sports car. When you have quit your job, are wearing the same outfit everyday, and are banking on a dream that still only has three pages written, you will need one solid dependable object in your life. The more luxurious the better as it will remind you that you are a credible human being with real life pleasures. It doesn’t need to be a car, it can be a really nice face wash. But buy something that helps remind you that abundance is possible again.


Start writing. Throw yourself in and fall in love.Resist the urge to trash your computer when you think all is total shit. You will hate yourself and hate your writing somedays. The whole thing will all appear as crap to you, and you will want to throw the whole project into the ocean and start over. Instead of writing, you will start looking for jobs online, not in your former career path, but in more holistic ventures like gardening or wine pouring. You will let yourself visualize an easier life where you have a paycheck again and life can be simple. Isn’t that what this whole thing was about? Slowing down and getting simpler?No. That is a lie. This whole thing is about stepping into your calling. To choose other peripheral jobs now would be to so the same thing you did ten years ago — you took a job to make money, fulfill a societal role, and not look like a loser. 


Remind yourself you are not a loser. You are brave and attempting to put all your eggs into the basket of your dreams, even if that is another crappy cliche. Watch Beyonce videos online and see how glamourous you can be when you make it out of the ghetto. Shower. Get in your sports car and drive around the block, but not too far because you have no gas. 


Pray. Burn sage. Fall on your face and beg for help. Do something totally different from writing, like moped riding or ecstatic dance — anything to remind you that life is ridiculously serious. And that is what you are trying to do. Become ridiculously serious and focused. Even though serious and focused looks like a barefoot, pregnant, unemployed mess.Welcome to the structure of the disciplined. 


That is it. 


And when you wake up and see the sunrise tomorrow, remind yourself of your dog, who can no longer breathe the sweet morning air, and remember that life is a gift. That you must use your gift in this life. Howl at the moon. Then, sit back down at the typewriter and begin typing again.Keep writing. And don’t move until the first draft is done. I mean it. Do not move until she is out. Then take a deep breath, buy yourself a bottle of two dollar Charles Shaw wine and take a nap. Brush your teeth when the Charles Shaw tastes bad. Take a long walk. Don’t touch the book for at least three days. Take your first weekend off in months, even though everything thinks you are on vacation. Let yourself pause and revel. 


Return to your work and resist the initial impression that it is all shit. Pay no attention to the fact that you just thought you were done and now, three days later with fresh eyes, the opus looks like kindergarden scrawl. This is not the time to make major changes to the manuscript. You will wreck it. This urge to scrap the whole project is the same urge you will get when you run into your ex-boyfriend and suddenly want to chop all of your hair off. Its a stupid move to chop your hair. Because you will run into your ex-boyfriend, the same man who is also a star in your book along with your mother. And you will need to forgive him too. Especially after you make out with him on your living room carpet and he tells you he loves you and you say “ditto love you too.” Then, you will feel even worse because now, you are done with the book and supposed to be done with him… when really, your book is not done, your love for him is not ever close to done, and you probably need to forgive your mother again.


Will you ever just be done?


You have actually only just begun. 


I didn’t want to tell you this earlier as you would have quit. Really, you would have, and I only like to give people what they can handle. But, after you birth the book, you will realize you are far from done. Sure, you wrote her out. You climbed the peak. You crossed the first boundary. But that was just mountain A. You are not done. You have ways to go. The only difference is now, you are in too deep to turn around. You have either just wasted the last few months or you have a few more hills to cross. Ok, actually, they are the full on Himalayas. Because the rest of the work is not the fun inspirational drink your coffee at dawn stuff. 


Now is the time to edit and remove.Which is about as much fun as eating broccoli with your mother.


But you will have to remove everything that is not right. In your book. In your chapters. In your life. You will have to take away everything until you have just the essence of your work. You will have to, as Stephen King says, kill your darlings. And you will need help to do this.First, you will have to let others read your book. And let them tell you to get over yourself. Let them point out the crap and let them point out the brilliance. While they read and you wait gnawing off all your fingernails, start filling yourself up. Start reading again, go to lectures, take in other people’s voices as you have been living in your own head for so long. Take this filling in. Steal good ideas. You will need it because you are about to go to stage two.


Stage two of removal involves evicting yourself from the country. You will need fresh perspective and need an even quieter place to finish the work you have begun. You will need to be fully unplugged in a place where others are also vagabonds like you, who don’t shower, and don’t feel totally guilty for doing so. Pick a third world country that is cheap and warm, preferably one you can get to with frequent flyer miles. When you realized you used all your frequent flyer miles to go home to eat your mother’s broccoli, sign up for a United airlines credit card. They will give you a free Asian flight. Use the card for a Starbucks coffee, pay off the card in full, cancel the card, and book your ticket to Indonesia.


You will feel like you are completely alone but embrace the truth: you are so alone that you desperately need others. You need their help. You need their assistance. This will keep you from isolation. Embrace the helpless feeling and do what you have never done until you asked your mother for help — ask others for help. Be shocked at how giving people really are when they realize you are not an arrogant artist but a person wondering if she is crazy. Let them pity you but don’t pity yourself. Because actually, they don’t pity you. The people that will help you are the very people who, they themselves, once had a dream and someone helped them.


Discover the beauty of community. People who follow their dreams are not solo travelers, but sojourners down a well-trodden path where many others have walked before. You may not recognize this right away, as the path is dimly lit. Ok, its actually pitch black. 


You won’t know where you are going and there will be monsters lurking in the bushes. But they won’t eat you, even when you get off that plane in a foreign land. When you arrive into town at midnight in that foreign land and you don’t know where you will even lay your head to sleep.Trust that there will be good people there waiting for you. Like Lara. A girlfriend who, when she heard you were flying to Bali, decided to meet your there. Because that’s what people will begin to do. They will begin to show up. To greet you with open arms. To meet you in foreign countries and take you into their hotel. And, on the first night you are there, offer you a job in China that will allow you to become financially stable again — even more financially stable than you would be had you not quit your job.Run to the open arms but don’t accept the job. Yet. Your first job is to finish your book. 


Trust the rest will come.This is all part of the process of filling back up, of taking in other’s perspectives, other’s arms, other’s stories. Be amazed at how, when you approach life in this way — with outreached hands — how much will open up to you. 


Remind yourself of when you were young and you reached out to be held, of how you didn’t get pushed away. There, in this open place, receive. It is now time to do the hard work of stalking.Really. 


Find a mentor and stalk her life. Choose a mentor who is a successful artist and not a starving artist, preferably one who gained success before they died. Because you don’t really want to have to wait for post-mortem fame. For me, this artist was Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, I had to stalk her tracks all the way to Bali and edit my memoir from there.Why? Because we need to be reminded it can be done. Trust your gut on these outlandish instincts and laugh when life proves you right. When, in passport controls in Bali, you realize that unbeknownst to you, you have landed the day an international writer’s festival begins, where many people in the town of Ubud will freely offer to edit your book.Keep laughing. 


This is the third process: To laugh and edit. Remove, remove, remove. Do twelve drafts of your book. Cry when the lovely editors tell you to burn chapter three and glee when you find a way to squeeze the same theme into chapter ten. Work more. Take away until you have only what you need left. Bare bones.Then, take a deep breath, do one final spell check, and send it off to publishers. 


Print the whole manuscript once for yourself, revel in it, and, on the last day of the year — the year that changed your life from a successful director at a prestigious university to an unemployed nomad — create a campfire and light your whole project on fire.Yes, burn your book.


You are done. Trust the rest to God and start fresh.


You have given it your all.Even if you fall flat on your face. You have faced your fears. You have found your gut and listened to the voice inside you and then, you have let it come out. You have not stifled it. You have been tempted by fame and glory, prestigious titles and vanity. Time and again, you have nearly prostituted your dreams for yet another detour. 


But this time, you avoided the safe path and you have focused. You have pulled your arrow straight and taut and shot it directly toward one thing, one goal. And so, you may have put all your eggs in the basket, and the crappy cliches have emerged again, but at least you know you tried.


There will be rejections. Lots of rejections. In fact, the only agents and publishers that will contact you immediately are the ones that don’t like you. They will send immediate NOs which may have nothing to do with your talent, but if it hurts, when it hurts, it only means you are human and not dissociating. The ones that potentially like you will show their love by ignoring you. By considering your work in painstaking silence for months while, in the meantime, the other haters will keep sending you prompt Nos.Accept the Nos. View the rejections as the rip in the seam that will lead you to the other side. Jump through the hole. Every No is a more focused path to the correct Yes. And like love, all you need is one person to say YES back. 


Keep channeling your vision into a straight path. Its amazing what you can accomplish when you you walk in a straight line.Keep reaching out. And those that love you will smile and embrace you back. This is love – to open your arms, Rumi says. And love is the only way we can step into our passion.Get quiet. Stone cold silent. Pause and wait to see what opens. Trust that Divine Love is always for you and that the Universe is conspiring on your behalf, especially when the nightfall comes.Shhh….


There, in the thrones of winter when it is most silent, move to China. Receive the job that will get you back on your feet, begin the next chapter, the next sequel, and keep trusting.May we all be brave in 2012 and continue to step into the gifts that make this world come alive. Love you all, you talented crazy group of dreamers 😉

when there’s nothing left to burn, you gotta set yourself on fire. – the stars

Jennifer
Jennifer
Writer. Learning Designer. Dark chocolate expert.
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  • Jennifer
    Reply

    Becky Wicks LOVE IT! Jen, this is brilliant, I had tears in my eyes. Can't wait to find out what happens next! xx
    January 20 at 5:18pm · Like

    Daniel Gregory Chiacos Pretty cool, Jen. I'm gonna have to re-read it when I'm not working (yes, 11:30 on a Friday night and I just had my last meeting, oh the crazy path of the photographer's life!). You're a talented writer 😉 Yeah, screw Barnes and Noble – I'm glad they became an H&M in Paseo Nuevo… have you seen it?! xo

    Roni Pavick Jen…LOVED this! and, like your friend Becky, I too felt a couple of tears emerging as I read it. You are an inspiration and I would absolutely promote your writing! 🙂
    January 20 at 5:49pm · Like · 1

    Brittany Perry Burkett Love you!
    January 20 at 7:11pm · Unlike · 1

    Samantha Turner Wow, I'm speechless. Finally had a quiet moment to myself in bed w/ my laptop to read and re-read this. Jen, u rock chiqui linda! Que brilliante! The only part it is missing is throwing shoes at the wall to vent your mounting frustration, or filming a documentary as a ploy to stalk men who otherwise wouldn't notice you…which actually can be quite effective as an interim to avoid studying…or writing! Bacio amica mia! ♥
    January 20 at 11:34pm · Unlike · 1

    Julie Fiscalini Thanks for sharing…enjoyable read & you story is an incredibly courageous journey for sure…so, are you really in China to live/work?
    January 20 at 11:46pm · Like

    Chrys Muszka AMAZING!!!!! i'm gonna put this in a word document and when I'm finally ready to take my leap and write me book I will have your wise words to follow!!
    January 21 at 5:51am · Unlike · 1

    Natasha Mac Incrediblee !! It's like you've talking to meeee !!! Miss our chats x
    January 21 at 8:01am · Unlike · 1

    Lisa Flannigan Love you!!
    January 21 at 10:49am · Unlike · 1

    Roxanne Morganstern Jen, such an amazing piece! I cannot wait to read your book! Having seen you go through so much at the beautiful ranch, having been there when precious Nita was buried with her ocean view, and now to see you off to China…it is an honor and privilege to know you! You inspire, you set on fire! xoxo
    January 21 at 5:45pm · Unlike · 1

    Courtney Guerra There is an elegant flow to your writing…it is refined yet honest, humble and proud…there is a sense of wisdom and curiosity all in the same verse…you have put words to the twists and turns of an amazing life thus far!

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