I have long admired Jordan Rosenfeld for her literary wisdom and grace. A powerful role model for persistence, she has three new books out this year, with a fourth on its way—and a long history of inspiring and informing writers striving to improve their craft and their practice. I’m thrilled to share our conversation about the recently released A Writer’s Guide to Persistence.
SC: Why is persistence so important in the writing life? How has it paid off in your own life?
JR: Persistence is the force that brings us back to the page when the doubts are louder than the passion. It’s what keeps us submitting in the face of rejection. It’s what allows us to tune out the voices, the competition, the fear and return to the slow burn that makes us write in the first place. Without it, we give in to our all-too-human tendencies to hedge and doubt and procrastinate.
I would have no writing life without persistence; I’ve been down in many a dark place, or up high on a terrifying ledge of imminent failure. After years of really building up my writing life, I thought for sure my writing life was dead and cold in the first two years of my son’s life (he’s now 7). Persistence is that inner wisdom, which Rilke suggests young Mr. Kappus must listen to in Letters to a Young Poet.
SC: I really appreciate your focus on keeping writers connected to their joy and purpose. Why do you think this is so important in the writing life?
JR: I think that it may be more important for American writers, because we live in this festering petri dish of false fame and promise of overnight success. I’ve had a lot more editing clients in the past few years be more interested in getting a book “out there” than worrying about whether it was ready. In American culture, money and promises of fame are more alluring than artistic process, which can be a quiet, even invisible thing that brings joy to only the writer/creative. Yet I think that if you can’t connect to your joy/purpose you are far more likely to turn away from the very important creative voice inside you, or to do it numbly, joylessly, rotely, and I figure life is too short for that.
SC: I love your “work it” and “move it” tips. Can you share one here to give readers a sense of how you motivate and inspire?
JR: In chapter three I encourage writers to create a “Writer’s Code” as their “Work it” tip. In this you ask yourself three questions: What is the value of my writing? What is my writing rhythm? (When am I at my best) and What am I willing to risk to take the next step?
Move it was designed out of my own experience that too much sitting really will kill you–it ruins your body and all kinds of research has now suggested that we need breaks. I also think that writers often forget to connect to their bodies, even though writing requires us to bring sensory imagery to the page. So every “move it” tip is designed to literally get you up and out of your chair; from as simple as doing a neck stretch to as dramatic as suggesting you try a new exercise class, to walking out in nature or offering to walk someone’s dog.
SC: Can you give me an example of an attitude (or writing practice) shift that could take a writer from immobilized to deeply engaged?
JR: Frankly the one I’m finding the most successful in my own life lately is “start anywhere”–rather than holding yourself to an idealized version of how much or often you should write, just dive in somewhere. One sentence leads to many more, I find, and it’s usually getting started that is the most challenging.
SC: How do you think our ideas of success can actually interfere with our ability to write well—and enjoy the process?
JR: Most commonly I think that people rely upon external praise as a litmus for how well they are doing with their writing, which takes power out of the self and hands it over to others. At its core, Persistence is about learning to validate yourself by connecting to your writing on a meaningful, personal, and purposeful level–making a writing practice out of it, not a series of competitions you will either win or lose. If you always have writing to come to, to find refuge in, to make meaning of, and yes, maybe to sell and earn money with as well, but first the other reasons, then it really matters a lot less whether others like it or not. Ultimately if you love it enough, and stay committed to it, you’ll find homes for your writing. And then, when your own joy is already so deeply forged in you, and someone gives you a compliment, it will just feel right, and good, not like a “sign” that you should keep writing. The only sign you need to keep writing is that you wish to do so.
SC: After they buy and devour your book, what other ways can writers learn with and from you?
JR: I’m leading two retreats with Martha Alderson (known as The Plot Whisperer). One, a Renewal Retreat December 12, in Santa Cruz, and the other, our third annual Writer Path Plot & Scene Retreat, May 6-8, 2016 at the Mt. Madonna Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. More info on those can be found at www.writerpath.com and www.jordanrosenfeld.net
SC: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your work?
JR: Lastly, I just want to start a revolution where creatives and writers take back their power and stop waiting on others to do what your heart or spirit or muse wants you to do. If you wait, then you get more waiting. If you fear, then you suffer. Anything that takes you away from your writing isn’t helping you.
* * * * *
Jordan Rosenfeld is author of 3 novels, most recently Women in Red, and 4 writing guides, most recently Writing Deep Scenes, co-authored with Martha Alderson. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as: Alternet, Dame, GOOD magazine, mental_floss, the New York Times, Ozy, Pacific Standard, The Rumpus, Salon, The Washington Post and more. Learn more at: www.jordanrosenfeld.net