Jill Jepson is a writer, writing coach, college professor, and linguistic anthropologist. She is the author of Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion & Purpose, published by Ten Speed Press. She runs Writing the Whirlwind, a business that offers workshops and coaching for writers, activists, caretakers, and others (www.writingthewhirlwind.net). Her personal website can be found at www.jilljepson.com.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Jill. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: In addition to my new book Writing as a Sacred Path, I have two books out: No Walls of Stone: An Anthology of Literature by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers and Women’s Concerns: Twelve Women Entrepreneurs of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. I was a free-lance magazine writer for years, and I published around seventy articles in magazines and newspapers, and my work also appears in A Woman’s Path: The Best Women’s Spiritual Travel Writing. I was also a columnist for The Modesto Bee for more than two years. So my writing career has been quite varied.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: My first book was No Walls of Stone. It is a collection of essays, stories, and poetry by deaf and hard of hearing writers, and was published by Gallaudet University Press.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
A: Actually, none. In fact,I never even went through the process of looking for a publisher for that book. My publisher heard about my book before it was finished and asked to see it. It was in the days before the Internet, and I’d placed advertisements in various magazines asking for deaf writers to submit their work for an anthology. An editor at Gallaudet saw one of the advertisements and wrote me asking to see the manuscript. They accepted it, so I didn’t even try to find a publisher—they found me.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: Although my first book was published very quickly, I have had many articles and stories rejected during my years free lancing. The rejections can feel very bad, but I believe it’s important for writers to accept them as part of the writing life. All writers get them, and if you can’t handle them, you need to find a different profession. I think I’ve been lucky in having work published early in my career, so I could always think, “Maybe this didn’t sell yet, but that other book or article did—so I must be doing something right.” When I was doing a lot of magazine work, I’d get enough acceptances mixed in with the rejections to keep me going. Just when I felt like the rejections were getting me down, I’d get an acceptance and feel buoyed up again.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
A: As I mentioned, my first book was published by Gallaudet University Press. Gallaudet University is the only institute of higher education for deaf people in the world, and the press is the largest publisher of books on deafness and the deaf community. When they came to me, I was delighted. I felt they were the perfect place for my book.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: It felt very validating. It made me feel that I really had something to offer the world, and that I was appreciated for the hard work I do.
Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: I did very little promotion on my first book. My publisher took care of that. No Walls of Stone was reviewed by several major newspapers, and got good word of mouth, and I had little need to do anything.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: No. It worked out very well for me.
Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
A: My most recent book, Writing as a Sacred Path, is a vastly different work from anything else I’ve written. It is the culmination of a lifetime of exploration, and it combines the two major threads of my life: spirituality and writing. I spent many years in a spiritual quest that took me all over the world, including Japan, India, China, the Middle East, Central America. Everywhere I went, I delved into the spiritual traditions of the culture. I spoke with practitioners of different religions, read the sacred texts, studied, and, when appropriate, engaged in the spiritual practices myself. I also wrote my entire life—I began to make up stories at three and have never stopped. At some point, I began to realize that my spiritual journey and my writing were part of the same process—that writing really was my spiritual path. That was the birth of my book, Writing as a Sacred Path. More than anything else I’ve done, the book is an expression of who I am and what I want to say.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
A: In terms of publishing my shorter work—magazine articles and stories, for example—I probably made every mistake in the book, from not taking the process seriously enough to getting too wrapped up in getting published fast, rather than taking the time to develop. But those mistakes were really a gift: I learned a tremendous amount from them, and every step I took contributed to my understanding of the writing process. I use that understanding both in my work as a writing coach and in Writing as a Sacred Path. So I don’t actually think I’d change anything from the past. I treasure my early mistakes.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: One of my greatest accomplishments, other than publishing my books and articles, is building my business, Writing the Whirlwind. I offer coaching to writers, activists, caretakers and others, and I also offer online writing and journaling workshops. Turning my love for helping writers into a business was an enormous challenge, but it was worth every minute of work. It is really the work of my soul.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: My work as a writing and life coach is my other profession. It is work I love and find tremendously fulfilling. It is so closely tied to my work as a writer that it is hard to separate them.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: I couldn’t give up writing for anything. It is too much a part of who I am. But I don’t have to make that choice. I’ve been able to combine writing with coaching and teaching. Although it keeps me a little too busy sometimes, I’ve been very lucky in being able to fulfill many of my dreams.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: If I could be doing exactly what I’m doing now—writing and helping other writers reach their full potential through my books, workshops, and coaching—then I would be blissfully happy.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: Two words: just write. What I mean by that is to write for the sake of writing itself, write because you love it, and keep writing no matter what. It’s the most important thing you can do as a writer. Talent is important. Training helps. Learning—from teachers, editors, other writers—focus and discipline, all of that is important. But if you want to succeed as a writer—succeed both in the sense of getting published and in a deeper, more personal way, the absolutely most essential thing any writer can do is to write out of the sheer love of writing, even when it seems like you’re going nowhere. It should be every writer’s mantra: just write, just write, just write.