WRITING LIFE: How I Renewed My Enthusiasm for Writing by Erica M. Dolson

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Jane Villanueva’s non-linear path felt especially familiar.

In an early scene in Jane the Virgin, Jane Villanueva reveals her dream of being a writer.

“I’m a writer?” she says, clearly bashful, the end of the sentence rising in a question. “I have never said that out loud before.”

At first, I thought this might be a trick of characterization, a plot device. Yet, the show’s depiction of Jane’s writing life incorporated as many ups, downs and plot twists as the telenovela itself. I saw Jane the Virgin as a show about following your dreams and believing in your passions. For me, that meant writing.

I started to watch Jane the Virgin during a summer when my writing had become monotonous. Each day, I’d spend a few hours tinkering at my desk: taking notes, freewriting or researching literary journals where I could eventually submit work. In the evenings, I’d watch Jane the Virgin.

Like Jane, I blush a little bit when I call myself a “writer.” Despite my dedication to the writing process, I am not seeing the results I want: to be published regularly, to have so many clear, cohesive ideas that my writing time is always productive, for writing to fit more naturally into my life. I want my craft to come easily. Instead, I find the process to be. So. Slow. Over time, I’ve grown frustrated and doubtful. If I was truly a writer, wouldn’t I be more successful by now? To save face, I’ll say, “I write.” Or, when I speak to my students, “In my own writing…” Most of the time, I speak about writing as something I do, even though I also see it as part of who I am.

In the show’s five seasons, Jane’s writing—and her commitment to her craft—becomes central to the story. It’s shown not only when Jane talks about finished writing projects or in moments of success, but, more often, by the many choices she makes to pursue her writing. She enrolls in graduate school. She interns and writes for her father’s telenovela. She takes a teaching assistantship. She joins a writing group. She takes an improv class to stimulate her creativity during a period of writer’s block. She works in publishing. She works as a waitress. She publishes with an independent press. She finds an agent. She writes late at night, in the mornings and even while she commutes across Miami on the bus. She drafts several novels, abandons them and returns to revise them. She goes through productive periods and periods when she doesn’t write at all. Jane faces setbacks, too. Her first novel receives lukewarm reviews and poor sales, eventually leading Jane’s publisher to drop her.

Jane’s non-linear path felt especially familiar to me. I don’t have connections in the publishing world, and I only have a vague idea of what it takes to get a book published. I hear friends and colleagues talk about grants and residencies, but I don’t fully grasp how those opportunities would enhance my own writing practice. I read about writers for well-known publications who use their platforms to garner book deals and about writers discovered after they publish a short piece in a high-profile journal. But those scenarios seem too far out of reach for me, at least right now. I simply want to write, and I felt empowered as I watched Jane do just that: live her life, write her books and figure it out in her own way and on her own time.

I watched Jane the Virgin during a period of my life marked with feelings of hopelessness. I often felt I was taking up space with no real purpose. My creative pursuits took a hit: I started and abandoned projects, and I pushed away a few publications who were interested in my work. Slowly, with the help of therapy, meditation and journaling, things started to get better. In a moment of inspiration, I began writing a new essay. Almost immediately, I felt excited. It offered a break from my worries and ruminating thoughts. It gave me a new drive to say and contribute something meaningful—and provided hope that more ideas and insights would come. On days when I was feeling down—a new lesson didn’t go as planned, the end-of-semester evaluations were lower than I expected—and my familiar feelings of worthlessness surfaced, I could return to my writing. “I have an essay that’s starting to gel,” I’d think. Even if it was just an idea, it was still something concrete that made me feel worthwhile.

Jane’s novel sells in the final episodes. While Jane’s success had always been inevitable, it was also deserved and hard won. As I watched, I smiled and thought, She did it. I never thought, She’s finally a writer, because—published or not—she had always been a writer.

Some of my favorite parts of the series were watching Jane write. I looked forward to the magic as words filled the screen (sometimes complete with typos!). As I watched, I itched to write—not just for the hope of publication, but for the joy of the whole long and messy process.

Meet the Contributor

Erica M. Dolson lives and teaches writing in central Pennsylvania. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Culinate.com, Full-Stop, Critical Read and borrowed solace. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Villanova University and her MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. She enjoys playing the ukulele, taking walks with her dog, doing yoga and spending time at the beach with family.

 

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