Jesica Hanley Vega

Sing Your Song



On Editing: On The Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character


A few weeks ago, I reread a series of online newspaper columns I’d written in 2011. The writing was clear, informative and grammatically sound, but it was also boring as shit.

Around the same time, I picked up a copy of “To Show and To Tell” by Phillip Lopate*. In this book, dedicated to the craft of “literary nonfiction,” Lopate writes that nonfiction authors must not shy away from revealing their authentic selves, regardless of how flawed, weird, or even dull, they believe themselves to be. Ultimately, he writes, even when the subject is not memoir, it’s the writer’s unique perspective, their “character,” that makes their work engaging.

Lopate had me see that, in too completely concealing my origins and point of view — a Puerto Rican Jew from the Bronx, a person-of-color passing as white, perpetually angry about abuses of power, and equally passionate about the possibility of a just world — I’d omitted aspects of myself that might have made my articles compelling, rather than just informative.

In contrast, in “Between The World and Me,**”  Ta-Nahesi Coates’ anger, defiant atheism, confusion and despair inform every page, as do his tender love for his son and his grief for an old friend. He is frank about childhood fears, his inability to master the streets, and the fact that he cannot identify the answer to racism in the United States, only the problem, and the tragedy, that it is.

But through a lens of what might be regarded as imperfection, an intellectually persuasive and emotionally forceful human being emerges. It is no accident that the book has become a phenomenon and that, despite insisting on his own limitations, Coates — or rather, the narrative “character” he created – has become a prophet to many.

This is why editing is about so much more than just debugging and polishing your grammar, syntax and structure. It’s also about enhancing your voice so that readers not only acquire a new understanding of your subject, but also gain a greater understanding of who you are, as a writer and a human being.

*Lopate, Phillip. “On The Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character.” To Show and To Tell, The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. New York: Free Press, 2013.

** Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. First edition. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. (edited by Christopher Jackson, yay!)

Find Your Creative Tribe

IMG_3272As I’ve mentioned before, prior to my life as an intuitive guide and teacher, I worked in the entertainment industry. In 1997, I drove my Toyota Corolla from Chicago to Los Angeles with dreams of turning my first ever screenplay into an independent film. Though I never made that film, I did meet many kindred spirits in LA’s independent film scene and developed friendships that have lasted to this day.

Sean Hood is one of those friends. Unlikely as it may seem for someone with writing credits on films such as 2011’s remake of Conan The Barbarian and this year’s The Legend of Hercules, Sean is a person of rare intelligence and insight. In addition to working on Hollywood blockbusters, he also teaches writing and shares his views on film and the film industry on his blog GenreHacks.

“We all need a different model of success” he recently wrote, “one that requires creatively minded people to build circles of 30-100 people who are deeply engaged in their work.  Whether or not one “hits it big,” this circle becomes the center-of-gravity for creative growth, psychological health, and spiritual meaning.” He calls this model “Creative Tribalism.”

Creative Tribalism doesn’t apply only to artists, however. It can benefit anyone who seeks a life of growth, health and meaning. We ALL need communities that support our efforts, help us grow and – most importantly – benefit from our gifts. From firsthand experience, I know how demoralizing it can be to live the winner-take-all paradigm of creative success – in which either everyone knows your work (because you “hit it big”) or no one does.

I also know how wonderful it’s been, in the last few years, to develop a small but vital following of clients, colleagues and Path community members who inspire me to dig more deeply into myself, expand my leadership and strengthen my work. I wouldn’t be where I am – or who I am – without them. My creative tribe has been my greatest teacher and has inspired me to support others in the discovery of their own tribes.

Sean Hood was there 15 years ago, inspiring and challenging me when I was struggling to make films out of a cramped and dark West Hollywood office space. He’s still there – only now out in the blogosphere – throwing out ideas that inspire and challenge me when the medium for my ideas has changed but not the passions behind them. He’s a member of my tribe.

Do you have a gift, a story or a song that you’ve yet to share? Is there someone – or some group of someones – you could share it with? What journey could you begin by daring to be imperfect? To not yet be “great” but to simply be courageous? And what relationships could you nurture that would see you through your own years of failure and success and help keep your fire alive?

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