I’ve been pretty obsessed with Jill Soloway’s series Transparent this winter break, which led me to reading Ariel Levy’s fabulous profile of Soloway in The New Yorker titled “Dolls and Feelings.” There are a dozen reasons why any emerging writer should read this profile, but the juncture of Soloway’s story that keeps replaying in my head is the one at which her career was at its lowest point and she made the decision to “double down” on herself (see excerpt below). Even though the sensible thing for Soloway to do at that moment in her life would have been to pay off debt, she decided to bet on herself instead. This part of the story replays in my head because I know that every writer who succeeds has made that same decision at some point. At some point–or at many points–we have to commit to ourselves and our material. We have to bet on ourselves. We have to bet on our themes, our narratives, our particular and quirky way of telling a story. We have to “double down” on ourselves.
From The New Yorker profile, “Dolls and Feelings”:
In 2011, after almost two decades as a television writer, Soloway was broke, with two kids, trying to recover from the recent writers’ strike and the recession. Then her old friend Jane Lynch, who was starring on “Glee,” told her about a job on the show, and Soloway went to meet with the producers. “Finally, here’s this moment where I’m meeting on ‘Glee,’ ” Soloway said. “Ryan Murphy wants to hire me. I’ve been best friends with Jane Lynch for about three decades—we’re sisters. It’s happening.” As Soloway drove home from the meeting, her agent called to say, “Pop the champagne—they loved you.” A week later, he called again: Murphy had heard that Soloway was “difficult,” and wasn’t going to give her the job. The agent said he’d send a check to tide her over.
That night, Soloway sat in the bathtub, while her husband, Bruce Gilbert, a music supervisor for film and television, brushed his teeth. She remembers telling him, “ ‘I don’t want to use the money to pay off our debt. I want to be a director, and I want to make a film with it and get into Sundance. I want to double down on me.’ And Bruce was, like, ‘O.K.’ ” Then, just as Soloway was making the leap to directing her own material, her father called one afternoon and came out as transgender.
Interestingly, Soloway had already been working with the theme of gender identity for years. But at this juncture her commitment to herself met opportunity and she grabbed it. I’ve interviewed dozens of writers about how their books came into being and this prior decision to commit preparing them to seize an opportunity is a common story. Many times the writers had to overcome the culture’s and their own negation of their subject. In a recent interview I did with Cheryl Strayed, she talked about how in grad school the cool topics to write about were drugs, sex, and rock and roll, but the thing she wanted to write about was the decidedly uncool topic of being sad about the loss of her mother. Accepting that her grief was her material was an essential part of her process of doubling down on herself.
What would it look like for you to double down on yourself in the coming year? I’ve been answering that question for myself this past week, and I challenge you to wrestle with it too. Let’s double down together.
Happy New Year, Readers! I appreciate you.
Thank you for that piece. And all the spot-on posts you send along, free for nothing, and filled with gold.
Would have left this as a comment but I am drowning in family obligations and too stressed to do the simple steps to make a real comment on the site.
Much love to you & eager to behold your double down in the new year.
Oh, thank you so much, Anastasia! I love seeing your progress with your wonderful book, Divorce Is the Worst.
And, yes, you actually did leave this as a comment. (The first time someone comments on the blog it doesn’t show up until I approve it). Let me know if you meant it just for me to see and I’ll take it down.
Love to you and your double down self.
Great advice for the coming year! Thank you very much for encouraging writers to write about what matters to them. This made me think of a quote from the Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do no bring forth will destroy you.” To successfully double down on ourselves, we are going to need courage and faith. The more we write about themes that go against the grain or cultural trends, the more we also need to accept that it may not bring commercial success. Still, writing with integrity will ultimately save us and help us reach out to readers who feel the same way.
Wow. I love that quote from the Gospel of Thomas. I absolutely agree with it and also with your comment about the requisite courage and faith. If we are able to bring what is within us forth, we will find the readers who need our stories, whether they be few or many.
Thanks for reading and commenting here, Nadia.
Thank you again for the inspiration Theo. Best wishes for the New Year!
You too, Nadia!
I have a question about your next webinar: Memoir Essentials.
I have finished a memoir (I am 51!). Since it is my first book, I am interested in webinars that would help me with the overwhelming tasks of editing, polishing, formatting, and publishing. I feel kind of lost. I have taken a Writer’s Digest workshop 2 years ago about Memoir Writing 101. It was helpful but I am always interested in fresh perspectives. Your webinar definitely sounds compelling, and I was wondering if you also offered a webinar for memoirists who are getting ready for publication.
Thank you so much!
I haven’t offered anything like that yet, but I definitely work on those topics with coaching clients. Memoir Essentials is more for the writer new to the genre looking to explore their themes, gain some insights in to structure, and generate some new work.
You inspire me every day, and just when I think I have enough gems from you, you give more in your writing.
I will think today about what it means to double down on me. And I can hardly wait for the world to witness what more will come when you double down on you. Thank you, Theo.
Love this post. Such a good way to think of 2016…
We still need to have our long talk about Transparent Season Two. In the new year!
This is exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you, Theo.
Nice to see your name here, Lanier!
Thank you Theo, which issue of the NY are you referring to? And are you still offering an online class this winter? I tried it a year ago but had trouble with the visual and maybe I can figure all that out now!
Thank you, Nancy Kael
The profile of Jill Soloway is in the Dec. 14 issue of the New Yorker:
Yes, I’m teaching Memoir Essentials starting Jan 3rd. Here’s the link:
That was wonderful , positive advice for the New Year even if you aren’t a writer.
Thanks so much, Susan! Glad you enjoyed it. Happy New Year to you!
Thank you so much for this piece of inspiring courage. I have struggled for four years to get my story out. I’m 40,000 words there – here’s to doubling down!
40k words is a critical mass. I feel a relief around the 35/40k mark as that’s been the halfway mark for me.
Double down in 2016! My new motto. Thanks for stopping by the Cow Pasture and commenting.
Great advice, Theo. And I have been obsessed with “Transparent” too- have watched both seasons twice!
I love the character of Maura and the way the theme of the Jewish ancestry was woven in to Season Two. And the dialogue!
I love Jill Soloway Theo. Thank you for sharing this interview with her and previous comments from Cheryl on this topic. It might be psychological the nudge I needed to continue. I recently used a Soloway quote in a monthly missive I write that really spoke to me: “When I write, I lose time. I’m happy in a way that I have a hard time finding in real life. The intimacy between my brain and my fingers and my computer…. Yet knowing that the intimacy will find an audience…. It’s very satisfying. It’s like having the safety of being alone with the ego reward of being known.” (Jill Soloway) I know…it all takes time…but I think this is the part of me I’ve always had the hardest time with. Double Down…the new 2016 mantra!
Soloway is so quotable. There were numerous other quotes from that same New Yorker profile that I could’ve written about. One of my other favorites was this:
The cast talks about “Transparent” as a “wonderful cult,” but Soloway disputes this. “It’s not a cult,” she says. “It’s feminism.” Women, Soloway said, are naturally suited to being directors: “We all know how to do it. We fucking grew up doing it! It’s dolls. How did men make us think we weren’t good at this? It’s dolls and feelings. And women are fighting to become directors? What the fuck happened?”
Thanks Theo! This is great! I like this idea of double down on myself. I’m trying to do that with both music and writing right now. Working a lot less so that I can actually focus on these things and give them the attention they need and deserve, and what I deserve! Yay!
That sounds great, Violetowl. I know I feel so much better when I’m working away at what matters to me the most.