Interview with Jill Jepson, Author of Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion

Jill Jepson is a writer, writing coach, college professor, and linguistic anthropologist. She is also the author of Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion & Purpose (Ten Speed Press), a one-of-a-kind writing book that plumbs the practices of four great spiritual vocations—that of the shaman, warrior, mystic and monk—to provide a new, inspired approach for writers.

We interviewed Jill to find out more about her new book and her life as a published author.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Jill. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Jill: In a sense, I started “writing” when I was three years old. At that age, I loved telling stories. I couldn’t write well enough yet to put them down on paper, so my mother would actually take the time to write them down. At ten, I published my first story in the children’s section of a newspaper. I got a pencil box for payment. Even then, I thought that was a pretty lame reward for all my work. But it was my first inkling of what the road ahead would be like. As I tell my students, getting a nice, normal job is a bit like driving down the freeway. Becoming a writer is more like heading off with a backpack along a mountain path. It’s a lot harder and it’s much more frightening, but you’re going to have some amazing experiences. It’s an adventure, and like most adventures, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Jill: Writing as a Sacred Path explores the relationship between writing and spirituality by looking at four spiritual vocations: that of the shaman, the warrior, the mystic, and the monk. It examines the ways writing can be a profoundly sacred experience. It also offers practical ways to help writers of all levels and genres deepen their relationship to their writing. It contains over eighty exercises—although I prefer the term “sacred tools”—including journaling practice, poetry prompts, dream work, crafts, outdoor experiences, and rituals—to help and guide writers.

My book came in part from a spiritual yearning I’ve always had. I’ve never bought into the materialist view of the universe that, if you can’t see it, define it, and measure it, it doesn’t exist. But for many years, I had a terrible time finding a spiritual path that felt right. My search for something spiritually authentic and meaningful took me all over the world and into spiritual traditions of all types.

It took a long time before I realized that I was already on my spiritual path. That path was writing. For me, writing has always been much more than a profession, an art, or a craft. Writers do something vitally important. They bear witness to the human experience, and they serve as the voice of the human soul. Once I made that realization, I started looking at the ways writers think about their work. What I found is that they virtually always talk about their writing the same way people talk about their spiritual practices. Writing is a form of meditation, prayer, ritual. It brings a sense of meaning, purpose, and transcendence. That realization—that writing is a sacred act—is at the core of my book.

What kind of research was involved in writing Writing as a Sacred Path?

Jill: Much of the research consisted of talking to practitioners of different spiritual traditions in different parts of the world. I spent two years in Japan and three in India. I took the TransSiberian railway, traveled through Europe, and hitchhiked around Afghanistan. I traveled to the Middle East and Central America. All told, I traveled to over fifty countries. Everywhere I went, I talked to practitioners of spiritual traditions, read sacred texts, and experienced as much of spiritual life as I could.

A second type of research I did had to do with coming to terms with the writing process. For that, I interviewed scores of writers and read dozens of writers’ biographies, published letters, and journals.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Jill: It was a fairly smooth process. I’ve been very lucky.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Jill: It took less than a year.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Jill: I have a wonderful agent, Winifred Golden of the Julia Castiglia Agency. In today’s market, I think having an agent is a necessity. At the very least, it makes the publishing process much easier. A good agent knows the ropes of publishing in a way few writers do. Agents are good at things that writers often aren’t, such as negotiation, and they have contacts in the publishing world. A writer without an agent is a little like the person who tries to act as his own lawyer or doctor. That’s never a good idea.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Jill: I’m working on a book about mythic archetypes that guide the writer’s life, and I’m also working on a novel.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

Jill: I have an office in my home that has a nice view of the grapevines and ponds in my back yard. My cats come and visit me there. It is the place I write best. It’s comfortable and conducive to going into the writer’s trance, the dreamlike state that brings up the best, the deepest writing. But I can write practically anywhere, whenever the mood strikes—which it does often. I’ve written on city busses, in doctor’s offices, waiting in line for a box office to open. When I’m sitting in a meeting looking like I’m paying attention, I’m often writing in my head.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Jill: I’m not sure because I think the most important thing in promotion has less to do with putting money into it than with putting yourself into it. If you have done good work and you are genuinely willing to put yourself out there, to bring your message to others, that is the best kind of promotion you can do. That means doing whatever feels right, whether it is writing articles, blogging, giving interviews, or using online networking. The important thing is the heart that goes into it—that sense that you have something important to say, something that can help others.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Jill: I think self-promotion is extremely important. I promote my book by offering workshops, giving presentations, and writing articles. I give online workshops and offer transformational life coaching for writers through my business Writing the Whirlwind. I also have a newsletter that is free to whomever requests it through my website. All of this—my workshops, coaching, newsletter—explore issues related to writing and spirituality, as my book does. They give a taste of what the book covers, and anyone who wishes to learn more can do so by reading Writing as a Sacred Path. In a way, all my work is an invitation to come explore the amazing adventure of writing.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

Jill: I’ve never come close to giving up. This is partly because I published at a young age and continued to publish short pieces regularly for many years. That always kept me going, always gave me a sense of accomplishment. Another reason I never thought of giving up is that writing is too much a part of what I am. I cannot even conceive of myself as other than a writer. I think that’s true of most writers who eventually succeed. The ones who give up, I think, are probably not really that invested in writing. They may be more interested in being a writer than in actually writing. They like the outer trappings, but don’t have a true commitment to the hard work of writing. When you are truly a writer, it’s part of your soul. You can’t give that up. Even if you want to, it just won’t go away.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Jill: Two words: keep writing. Persistence is the key, more than talent, more than luck. I say it to all my students, all the writers I coach. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

Thank you for your interview, Jill. I wish you much success!

Jill: Thank you.

You can visit her website www.jilljepson.com or her business website at www.writingthewhirlwind.net to find out more about her and her new book.
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