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Taking Ourselves Seriously

I'll be giving my first presentation as an author tomorrow night, at an event put on by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. I'm one of several panelists who have books coming out in 2010. Yet the other night, when I told a woman I was going to China in April to do research for my upcoming novel, she said something to this effect, "I think that's great. It shows that you take yourself seriously. You don't question whether you should go. You're a writer, so you're going."

I appreciated her support. However, it gave me something to think about. My head rang with the same reply over and over, "Of course I take myself seriously. Why wouldn't I?" That's not to say that I was offended by her comment. Rather, that I recognized an underlying assumption: that a person who works in the arts, or in a highly competitive profession might be afraid to take herself seriously. I've been writing professionally for 20 years, five of those as a freelancer, and my first book, a memoir, will be released this fall. Yet I'm not famous or wealthy: maybe that's why she thought it unusual or laudable that I would take myself seriously. But I don't think that's what prompted her comment.

The woman in question is working on her own memoir, her first book. It occurred to me that perhaps she was struggling with taking herself seriously. Until a writer sells a first book, she typically won't get paid for the years it can take her to write it. So she squeezes the task between other projects that pay, and people define her profession by those other projects. After that, it can take years to sell her book, a task that may or may not bear fruit. For this, she isn't paid either. It's a labor of love, not of money, and so to an outside observer it can seem like a pastime, game, or hobby. So maybe some people have not treated that woman's work seriously. And I know it is work, often intensely difficult, lonely, emotionally draining work. So, if she's having trouble taking herself seriously, she's only adding another burden to an already heavy load. I hope that's not the case; I hope she believes in her dream strongly enough to stand behind it 100 percent.

Until we take ourselves seriously as we pursue our dreams, it's difficult to convince others to take us seriously, and sometimes those others hold the keys to the kingdom of our dreams. In my case, those who hold the keys are: agents, editors, booksellers, and readers. But in almost every worthwhile endeavor that we pursue, we will face gatekeepers along the way who will want to know why they should be interested in what we have to offer. Unless we are certain that what we have to offer is of value, how can we expect to convince them?

If I didn't believe in myself, I couldn't have spent more than 10 years waiting for my memoir to be published this fall, and I couldn't head off to China this spring to do research for my historical novel. I'm financing that trip on my own, even though I will see no money from my first book until after it goes on sale. I'm working with a wonderful independent press, but because they're small, that's just how it goes. Ghost Road Press and I keep going in spite of the odds in this competitive business, because we believe in the importance of sharing stories. So you bet I take myself seriously.

But not too seriously. My memoir is called, "They Only Eat Their Husbands," which has made more than one person ask, "What does your husband think about that?" He thinks it's funny. When you gamble everything on a hard-won dream, you have to laugh.


Victoria Vorosciuc's picture

What if?

Hi Cara,

What if her statement was some kind of support?

The way you describe the situation makes me think that you still see her as competitor to you. I wish you luck with publishing and the experience you are going to have in China. I do like your title, and I believe it is lot of work developing a skill of book writer and advancing from free-lancer to a profession. You know that life makes big jokes with people. Some of them - who are really passionate about what they do, can have many obstacles and years to go, until they achieve their goal. Others, can make less of an effort, and they get the recognition of everyone and all they want.

Hope I don't confuse you too much with my opinion. Just woke up, it is 6 am in my country.

Would love to read your book some day!!!

Good luck!

I feel you are getting there!!!


Victoria Vorosciuc
Project Coordinator
"Empowering women to participate
in community life"
WorldPulse Media Corresspondent

Cara Lopez Lee's picture

It definitely was support

Hi Victoria,

Hmmm. I'm sorry that I didn't make it clear in my post, but I definitely did take what that woman said as support. I'm actively pursuing a closer friendship with her because I enjoy her so much. I'm also trying to offer her support in her endeavors as a writer. I don't see her as competition in any way. Even if I did, it wouldn't make sense, because her memoir is geared toward a different audience.

My point was that she seemed surprised that another writer would take themselves seriously, and my concern was that she was having trouble taking herself seriously. My conclusion was that I wanted to be more supportive of people like her who are pursuing their dreams. I want her to succeed, very much. In fact, the purpose of my memoir is to empower women.

I have a sinus infection this week, and my thoughts are a bit gummy. Maybe I shouldn't try to communicate when I'm not feeling well, because it seems that, at least for you, my reaction came across almost the opposite of what I intended. However, I'm glad you shared your thoughts; it gave me an opportunity to clarify my post.

By the way, freelance writing is already my full-time profession. I just typically spend more time writing for other people and publications than I do on my personal writing projects, such as the memoir.

Thanks for your well-wishes and the interest in my book. I'll keep you posted.

Have a great weekend in Moldova!

mkatubih's picture


What a challenge personaly i have never found reason to take myself serious because i see no reason encouraged by this post.Cara have fun in china and i wish you all the success during and after the launch of your memoir.
I like the title i hope i'l get a chance to read it.

Cara Lopez Lee's picture

Believe in Yourself

I'm happy you feel encouraged by my post, Maurine. I want women to understand the reason that I say, "Of course I take myself seriously," is because I want them to get a sense of what it might be like to say that for themselves. The belief that you have something valuable to offer - to your family, boyfriend or husband or friends, community, employer, the world - this belief is what fuels your energy to take the first steps to make that offering, which leads to the next step, until the contribution becomes real. Small or large, it doesn't matter, everything we do to make a difference in the world all adds to the whole.

I'll keep you posted when my memoir comes out. Not everyone has the ability or desire to live life the way I have. However, I hope they will take away the idea that we can heal ourselves, that we can make more of ourselves, and that if we do what we would do if we were not afraid, we can make a difference for others, too.

Sharese's picture

But, seriously....


This is such truth. Often as creative people, especially creative women, others are reluctant to take us seriously and unfortunately sometimes that can lead to internalizing the notion that what we are doing is in vain, when alas! art as a tool of communication from one soul to another is one of the most important things in the universe!

I am sure you inspired this lady, but her verbalizing her awe of your "taking yourself seriously" you opened a door for her to walk through to take herself seriously and stand by her words/thoughts/conveyed feelings/etc that she is expressing in her own memior.

Thank you for writing this post- it is so important that creative people inspire others of the same vibe. Keep taking yourself seriously, and I will do the same and that energy will inspire others to do so! And of course, as you said, keep laughing ;)

Much Peace and Love,


Cara Lopez Lee's picture

Encouraging Words


Thanks for the mutual encouragement. Although I believe in my work, overcoming the obstacle of worrying about what others think of me is an ongoing quest. The more I can stack up words like yours and hold them in my head and heart, the stronger I feel. I deeply appreciate your comment; women can double, triple, and quadruple our strength when we support each other.

Thanks for your support, I hope I can return the favor... anytime.

Take care,

Kim Crane's picture

art needs love

Thanks for posting this! what a powerful reminder! I think the points you make are so important for any of us who do creative work. I know I've been guilty of downplaying my "little projects," even though they were not little in my own mind. I belittled myself before anyone else could beat me to it. But why should anyone else take me seriously if I can't take myself seriously? I think this is also a great reminder for those of us who have loved ones with creative ambitions. It's so easy to fall into the trap of mirroring society with its deep unease about creative expression as a life path. Our own doubts and fears can bubble up under the guise of protecting those close to us from the cruel realities of a world that rarely values artistic expression. However, when we bring each other down instead of building each other up, we only give more power to those limiting structures. Instead we should be creating the world we want to live in.

We can start by giving each other the space and support to pursue what makes us most fully alive (like you are doing with your friend). We won't all achieve your (I'm sure hard-earned and well-deserved!) level of external recognition and success, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't all believe in the intrinsic value of our creative explorations. There should be a whole lot more room in the world for labors of love!

Oh, and I am also looking forward to reading your book!

Cara Lopez Lee's picture

Getting Each Other

I was moved by your comments, Kim. It's sad how much self-doubt and self-denial is out there, and how often we can be tempted to preemptively crush ourselves before others have a chance. I'm so glad my comments resonated with you. This is part of what creativity is about in the first place, isn't it? Connecting with another human being: soul-to-soul, mind-to-mind, or heart-to-heart.

It's unfortunate that society often finds creativity as superfluous, because the truth is that all human endeavors are improved by creative thinking. Albert Einstein, Franklin Roosevelt, Madame Curie, Sonya Sotomayor, Stephen Jobs and all our great mathematicians, scientists, and leaders could not have accomplished much without creative thinking.

Thanks for your interest in my book. I'll keep you posted.

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