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.