This week, I intended on sharing our journey preparing to pitch Slavery by Another Name for the first time at The Great American Pitchfest last year. But since this column’s birth eight weeks ago, I’ve received countless tweets, emails and Facebook messages asking how a recovering insecureaholic like me could have grown such a big “set.” But it was a string of direct messages on Twitter last night that made me realize the importance of sharing my fearlessness.
A friend admitted that she could barely say “Balls of Steel” out loud let alone live by the words, asking me the million-dollar question: “How did you get this way?”
INT. JEANNE’S HEAD – 1984
Cerebral mass throbs.
Who would ever want to read anything I have to write?
Those were the very words I spoke to my writing professor at Cornell as we ate quiche. Don’t judge me, quiche was big in the 80s. Even real men ate it, and this specific man was one I held in high regard. He wanted me to change my major to Creative Writing, but he might as well have asked if I wanted to run naked through the Arts Quad. Not so much.
It would be almost 20 years before I believed in my voice as a writer.
But being confident in your craft is merely the soil in the balls-of-steel garden. As a fellow writer and friend, Lynn Dickinson, said, “Once we actually know how to write, there’s so much more to know!”
When I began my career as a scribe, I was flying completely blind, letting other people choose my projects and be in control, much like I did in my life. My stomach was constantly in knots as I chose to ignore red flags, all because I lacked faith in myself. I was drowning in self-doubt, and I was taking my career down with me.
I could visualize the future I wanted, but had no idea how to get there. Until one day I realized I was an inactive protagonist in my life, ruled by fear, and unable to face my internal wound of insecurity and evolve. This was my moment on the bathroom floor. If I couldn’t find the courage to get up, I’d never make it as a writer.
First step: I gave up fear for Lent.
That’s right, just gave it up. Blocked it out. Handed it over to the powers that be, so I could focus on the problem, not on the emotion. That experiment not only changed my life, it changed my writing. I encourage you to try it, even just for a day, a week, or month, or a minute.
Once I started listening to my gut, and stopped trusting other people to know what was best for me, things changed. My writing changed. My words were bolder, my drive stronger, and my projects richer. At 40-something, I was finally growing up (yes, I just admitted my age in a world of ageism – funk that).
But I’m human, and years later, I still have moments of great fear. I move through the fear with baby steps. One little step at a time will eventually get you to your goal.
Small steps seem like a slow road, but I promise, they work. Three years ago, I was a writer with spec scripts, no track record and not a single published clip. Now I have a personal website with a long list of articles as well as radio and podcast interviews. My pile of completed scripts continues to rise, and my novel has gained the interest of agents even before its completion.
That girl who was crying on the bathroom floor would never have dreamed she’d be writing with a Pulitzer Prize winner.
One step at a time.
Don’t over-think it. Hell, don’t even think at all. Just DO! If you stop long enough to think, all the reasons you shouldn’t do something will sneak in and infect your brain. Worse, the fear will infect your heart.
In other words, get out of your own way!
If your gut tells you it’s the right path, then run down it with reckless abandon. It worked for Forrest Gump.
Without that philosophy, I would never have made it through writing Slavery by Another Name (SBAN). As daunting as that project was, it helped me gain my unbridled drive. It’s the hardest thing I will ever write in my life, but it is also the greatest blessing. Nothing scares me in writing or in life anymore. Okay, maybe raising teenagers still scares me.
Above all, do not ever allow someone to piss on your flame. I can’t stress that enough. If someone in your life drains your energy, causes you to doubt yourself or takes too much of your time from your work and passion, look inward and be sure you aren’t allowing them to sabotage you on purpose. This is your journey. Own it. Take control of it. Don’t let someone else drive your career.
A flame pisser isn’t a life raft that will protect you from failure. In truth, they will only guarantee it. Jump off the raft and swim. What’s the worst that can happen? “Failure” is not a dirty word. I’ve learned far more from my failures than my successes.
While you’re at it, remember to embrace the other “F” word – FUN! If you aren’t having fun writing and pursuing your dream, why bother.
My writing partner, Douglas A. Blackmon, and I first pitched SBAN at The Great American Pitchfest last year. As I stood on those lines, I realized just how far I had come since my first pitching session years earlier. It was an entirely different experience because I was a completely different writer… and woman.
Grow some balls and stand up for yourself. Stand up for your dream. You deserve it, and we deserve to read your words.
Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne’s advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.