I have the honor of presenting you with an exclusive interview I recently conducted with the one and only, Jerry B. Jenkins. With 21 New York Times bestsellers (seven debuting at #1), 186 books, and over 70 million copies sold, he is one of the most commercially successful writers of our time.
In the interview Jenkins opens up about self-doubt, failure, success, and why he so generously passes on what he’s learned about the craft.
When Jerry B. Jenkins talks about writing, writers everywhere stop whatever they’re doing and listen. Knowing this, and being one of those writers, I am thrilled that he hooked us up with a link to his free 5-part confidence-building writing lessons. (The link is in the last interview answer below.)
BH: Jerry, it’s an honor to interview you for Positive Writer readers.
JJ: Thanks! The honor is mine.
BH: My first question is one I’m sure a lot of readers are wondering, considering you’ve already sold over 70 million copies of your books and you’ve had over 20 New York Times bestsellers, why did you start a blog focused on giving helpful tips about writing?
JJ: I’m a firm believer in paying it forward. When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be introduced to an author I admired. He didn’t just sign an autograph and pat me on the head. He let me browse his office and ask a lot of questions—which he patiently answered. He also offered to answer any questions I sent him later—and this was decades before email and texting.
I decided that if I ever succeeded as an author, I would answer every letter personally and help any would-be writer to the best of my ability. My career has exceeded my wildest dreams, and it’s been a thrill to help lots of others get published too.
Some have asked why I would reveal my secrets to “the competition.” Believe me, the publishing pie is big enough for everyone to enjoy a slice without threatening anyone else’s share.
BH: Have you ever struggled with self-doubt specific to your writing (what I like to call Writer’s Doubt)?
JJ: Believe it or not, I still face doubt every day, and, frankly, it’s a good motivator. I’ve signed seven-figure contracts based on proposals and synopses alone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hit the wall half-way or three-quarters of the way through the writing process—just like marathon runners do at those stages of their races—and wonder why I ever got into this game.
When I transmit my manuscript, if I don’t hear back from my editor within a precise window of time, it always turns out to have been easily explained. But where does my mind go first? I’ve been found out. I’ve failed. I’ll need to start over. I’ve disappointed my publisher.
I write under such misgivings, never feeling as if I have arrived, despite reviews and sales and royalties that should make me feel otherwise. But I’ve read the work of people who feel they’ve reached a point where they can achieve without working so hard. And I’ve been disappointed.
Not everyone loves every word I write, but I never want that to be because I cut a corner or gave the work less than my best.
BH: Have you ever failed?
JJ: Oh, sure. The first time I tried to expand my horizons—as a teenager—and go from sportswriting to writing a feature, the editor told me my piece was “sh–,” and turned back to his work.
My boss, the sports editor, could tell I was shaken and said, “Had you had any misgivings about it?”
I told her what I thought I should have done with the article, and she said, “There you go. Anything you think you should have done is what you ought to do.”
So I did, then turned it in again, and this time the features editor bought it. That was the last time I submitted a piece of work before first covering all the bases.
BH: Have you ever succeeded when you thought you wouldn’t?
JJ: Candidly, I’m always taken aback by how successful my books have been. My aim is to give myself wholly to the task every time and leave the results to the marketplace. I can’t make a book sell. I can’t make people like it. I can only do everything I know to make each the best I can.
BH: Wow, yeah, that last part is so important. I know I struggle with it. I think it’s quite difficult, at least it is for me, to let go and publish after you’ve done everything you know to make your work the best you can.
How important is it to try (writing and publishing) even though one might be filled with overwhelming fear and Writer’s Doubt?
JJ: The only thing a writer knows for sure is how to guarantee failure. If you don’t finish for any reason—fear, doubt, procrastination, sloth, you name it—you protect yourself from rejection. But you also absolutely guarantee that you will not be published. No one has ever published a nonexistent manuscript. There’s a truism based on years of experience. 🙂
If your aim is to be published, you have no alternative. Get your seat in that chair and get to it.
After 40 years of writing, what drives you to keep writing?
At the risk of sounding falsely modest, I consider myself mono-gifted. I don’t sing or dance or preach. I write. I feel obligated to exercise the one talent I have been given. I haven’t done it for four decades with the intention of freeing myself to do something else.
My pace has changed. I am choosier, more deliberate, take more time between projects, savor each more. But I write because I am a writer.
BH: Can you tell us a little about your latest project?
JJ: I am writing The Valley of Dry Bones, a contemporary novel set ten years hence in a California devastated by drought. It’s based on prophecies in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel.
BH: You’re giving away an email course titled, My Blueprint for Writing with Confidence. What’s it about, and how can Positive Writer readers get access to it?
JJ: Yes, I’m excited about this. I’ve found writers seem to struggle most with confidence, which is a shame, because it’s a lack of confidence that keeps too many from telling stories that need to be told. My free email course is designed to help writers overcome discouragement and finish their books.
To join, click here to sign-up and you’ll get a new confidence-building lesson each day for 5 days.
Thanks, Jerry! It’s been great talking with you. I look forward to reading your forthcoming book and checking out your confidence-building lessons.
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