To be or not to be a writer – Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Taylor Jenkins Reid discusses her struggle about deciding to become a writer.♥

I realized I wanted to be a professional author somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-seven, although I can’t say for sure it was when I was twenty-six.

It was after I’d written my first novel, which sounds sort of absurd. Because you’d think that you wouldn’t write a novel until you knew you wanted to be a writer. But for me, writing was easier than admitting I wanted to be a writer.  After all, wanting to be a writer means you have a dream big enough that you might fail – and I wasn’t ready for failure.

But I was ready to try to write. So around the time I was twenty-four, I started sitting down on weekends when I was bored and plugging away at the story I came up with. Then about halfway through, I put it down. I was enjoying it immensely but I felt like I should be focused instead on trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. (It is only a person as clueless as me that will stop doing something they love so they can figure out what they love.)

It wasn’t until I let someone read my unfinished book, and they told me they loved it, that I finally saw it with clear eyes. It was as if someone else loving it gave me permission to love it too. I started writing again, and soon, I’d finished the book.

But I still wasn’t ready to admit that I wanted to be an author. Once I admitted all of that, I’d have to follow through. I’d have to do the hard work of editing and proofreading and submitting to agents. I’d have to be ready for rejection. I’d have to be willing to fail if I was going to try.

So I told myself it was a hobby rather than a dream.

But then, by sending the book out to my friends, who sent the book out to their friends, I got a call from a literary agent.The agent loved the book and thought I had talent. She thought she could sell it. She thought I should be a professional author.

So I figured I was ready to admit that it was a dream of mine to sell a book.


I was twenty-six when this happened. But the reason I say I’m not sure I was twenty-six when I realized I wanted to be a professional author is because I don’t think this moment really counts. I still wasn’t ready fight for it. I was simply ready to accept it when it fell in my lap.

I edited the book as the agent told me to and I handed it over. Then I waited for a call saying someone wanted to buy it. But that phone call never came. In fact, what I received was a stunningly long list of, “Thank you, but no thank you’s.” So many that I thought they might blind me.

And I found myself exactly where I’d never felt strong enough to be.


I had tried to sell a book. And I had failed.

But somewhere in all that rejection, I found that instead of being mortified and depressed and despondent, I was kind of okay. And I wanted to try again.

Even if that meant another string of no’s so long I thought they might blind me.

That’s when I realized I wanted to be a professional author. When I wanted it so bad, that unlikely success was worth the likelihood of failing, which is to say when my drive eclipsed my fear.

After that, I sat down, wrote another book, and sold it to Simon & Schuster.

It’s a deceivingly simple sentence because it was that simple and yet it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

It took over two years of hard work. It took so many rejections that I have lost count. It required me to let go of one agent and set out in search of another. To get where I wanted to go, I had to put myself so far out onto the branch ready to fly, that I was no longer sure I’d be able to put myself back together quite the same way if I fell.

But I was willing to do it because I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be an author. And I was prepared to do whatever it took to get there, even if it meant I’d end up falling flat on my face.

Now, with one published book under my belt, one coming out this summer, and two more in the pipeline, I know that you don’t stop being scared once you sell a book. I know that being a writer means you’re out on the branch permanently. I live in a constant state of knowing that I could fall down and crash into the ground at any minute, creatively, professionally, and financially.

But at least now I know myself well enough to know what I want. And now, I’m just fearless enough to say it out loud.


Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist living in Los Angeles. Her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, is out now. Her second novel, After I Do, is out now. You can tweet and instagram her @tjenkinsreid.

1 Comment

  1. Gisele LeBlanc

    July 8, 2014 at 4:54 am

    Great post! So many writers seem to be under the assumption that there is nothing else to worry about once you get a book deal. That you’ve got it made and everything after that will be smooth sailing–I used to be one of those myself. In reality, there is so much that comes after the book deal. So, so much. The life of a writer is a continuously winding road (whether you are published or not) with endless dips and peaks–like you said, it’s being out on that branch permanently. And, I think when you can admit that it’s what you really want, when you can let go of the fear, it’s at least half the battle.

    Thanks for sharing your journey and good luck with your second release! 🙂

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