My friend Kris and I were talking about grief and loss. Specifically, the type of shocking, shattering loss that blasts into your world out of nowhere. Like a hideous comet hurtling towards the center of your life. Abrupt and senseless. Completely out of your control.
A baby who dies suddenly in the night. A hospital worker’s voice saying, “I’m so sorry, your husband has expired.” The terrible news: “There’s been an accident.”
And this type of shocking loss doesn’t always center around a person’s death. It can also be the death of a dream. A marriage. A friendship. The only job you ever loved. It was there. Now it’s gone.
“They say everything happens for a reason,” I said to Kris. “Do you believe that’s true?”
Kris, a woman who has endured a stupefying amount of loss in her life, shook her head. “No,” she replied. “Everything does not happen for a reason. Sometimes things happen and there’s no logic or reason at all. It’s just senseless. But…” she continued. “We find a reason. We make a reason. We can turn the heartache into something meaningful, if we choose to.”
Kris’ words still echo in my ears and in my heart. We find a reason. We make a reason.
Now, as I am reeling from a particularly stinging loss in my life, that is exactly what I am trying to do. Make a reason. Make a lesson. Make an opportunity. Take all the disappointment and loss and turn it into light, into art, into the next book, into creative fuel — fuel to begin a new chapter of my life, the best one yet.
This is not easy to do. But I am trying. Trying to remember that no matter what happens around me or to me, I am not powerless or helpless. Because I can pick up these broken pieces and make something beautiful out of the shards. And so can you — dear human being who is reading this message. You’re not alone in your pain, and neither am I. We’re swimming together through the chaos, and we’re going to make our own reasons, and we’re going to create our own answers to the question of “Why?”, and we’re going to make some art, and earn some wisdom, and we’re going to survive.
My friend Melissa has always been obsessed with TV shows. The more salacious, dramatic, and ridiculous, the better.
As a kid, she loved watching all the classic soap operas. Shows like All My Children and Days of our Lives. Shows with utterly preposterous storylines — “She’s my evil twin!” “He faked his own death!” “It was her uncle the entire tiiiime!”
At age ten, she started writing her own soaps — but with a twist. All the characters in her stories were classmates from school. Oh, the drama! Her stories were a major hit on the playground. But eventually, a teacher shut down the project, telling Melissa it was “completely inappropriate.”
Melissa didn’t write a TV script again… for almost thirty years.
She moved on to other pursuits. She worked in sales. She ran a PR agency. She worked as a business consultant. She created a satisfying career and enjoyed her work very much.
And yet… her TV obsession always remained.
In her spare time, she would write quick stories, sketch out characters, or email friends with ideas — “Wouldn’t this make a great TV show?!” She started a fan-newsletter dedicated to True Blood. She fantasized about being a professional TV screenwriter. But when you’re in your mid-thirties with zero connections in Hollywood, that kind of dream is pretty unrealistic. At least, that’s what people always say, so it must be true, right? Melissa figured that TV would always be a passion, but probably not her career.
Then, something shifted.
One day, Melissa asked herself, “What if I decided to take my dream seriously?”
“What if I approach screenwriting as if it’s actually my career — as if it’s a ‘real thing’ that I’m doing — not just a fantasy or a hobby? What would that look like?”
She decided that’s exactly what she would do.
For Melissa, getting serious meant:
– Downloading screenplays from the Internet and studying their structure.
– Writing tons of screenplays of her own — some great, some not-so-great.
– Hiring a screenwriting coach to give feedback on her work.
– Entering several screenwriting competitions.
– Taking classes on improv comedy and acting.
– Reading dozens of books about screenwriting.
– Emailing friends to share her dream and ask for any help they could possibly give — an introduction to someone in the industry, an encouraging text message, anything at all.
– Scheduling time on her calendar to write, and treating this time like it’s a paid job and showing up is mandatory.
– Lining up coffee dates with people who work in Hollywood to share her story ideas and get mentorship and advice.
– Researching to find contact info for agents, managers, and decision-makers at TV networks and reaching out to introduce herself.
– Pitching her ideas to almost one hundred people, collecting tons of rejections along the way.
– Eventually, moving to Los Angeles (temporarily, at first) so she’d be ready to attend meetings, should the opportunity arise.
– Telling herself, “I am a TV screenwriter” rather than, “I wish I could be a TV screenwriter.”
Once Melissa decided to take her dream seriously — and put in a serious amount of work — a lot of things happened very quickly. A series of big breaks.
Within about a year, Melissa sold her first project to the Lifetime Network. It premiered last year and got watched by over 4 million people. Shortly after that, she sold an original TV show, loosely based on her real-life experiences working in the seedy, twisted world of pharmaceutical sales. Last week, she signed a deal to write a trilogy of movies. So many victories, so many breakthrough moments — and her TV career is only just beginning.
So many people wait around, wishing for a “big break” to come along — a blog post that goes viral, a bestselling book, a life-changing client, the perfect mentor or coach, something that will forever alter the course of their career.
In his memoir, the Tony Award winning actor Leslie Odom Jr. writes:
“The biggest break is the one you will give yourself by choosing to believe in your vision, in what you love, and in the gifts you have to offer the waiting world.”
From Melissa, I’ve learned that the big break isn’t a book deal, a lucrative gig, a rave review in the newspaper, or an invitation to give a TEDx Talk.
The big break is the moment you decide to take your dream seriously.
It took six weeks to write my novel, So This Is The End.
Six weeks of writing. Followed by six months of anxious procrastination.
I thought about releasing the book, but I didn’t. The document sat on my computer desktop — untouched, gathering digital dust. I didn’t pitch it to literary agents. I didn’t mention it to my publisher to see if they might be interested. I didn’t show it to friends and colleagues. I didn’t self-publish it. I didn’t even look at it.
Why so much hesitation? Why not just put it out there? All the usual reasons.
I’m too busy. I don’t have the energy. Besides, I have other commitments right now. I should focus on projects for my clients, projects that actually pay the bills. And anyway, it probably needs more work. It’s not good enough. It’s not ready yet.
Finally, with my birthday and a New Year approaching, I decided to rip off the Band-Aid and just do it. No more waiting. No more tweaking. No more maybe-later-ing.
I quietly released the novel on my website. No book deal. No fanfare. Just me, uploading a PDF with a homemade cover design that I drew with a black Sharpie pen.
This is what happened next…
A woman I’ve never met stumbled across my website and downloaded the book. She read it. She passed it along to her brother, who happens to be a TV producer. He read it. He passed it along to his colleague Nina, an actress, director, and screenwriter. She read it. One day, out of the blue, Nina emailed me to say:
“I wanted to compliment you on your story. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to ask if there has been any interest in adapting So This Is The End into a screenplay.”
At first, I thought Nina’s email was a joke. But it wasn’t.
Right now, she’s writing the pilot episode and she’s excited to pitch all the big networks. We’re already making our list of fantasy cast members (hey, John Cho.) There’s no guarantee that this project will actually get purchased — or get made — but it’s possible. Who knows what might happen next with this book?
The book I almost didn’t release because I didn’t think it was “ready.”
So, hi. Hello there. Whoever is reading this, I suspect you have something that you’ve always thought about creating — or something you’ve thought about sharing publicly. Maybe it’s a poem, blog, podcast, book, song, product, or a drawing of a dog wearing a cowboy hat with a funny caption underneath. Whatever it is, I hope you will be brave and put it out there. Even if — like me — you don’t feel completely ready. Please do it anyway.
Share it offline, online, onstage, on air. At the very least, share it with one person that you trust. Don’t bury your work in a drawer underneath the winter socks that you never wear. Let it be seen.
I know it’s scary to put your work out there. Oh my god, I know. It might feel terrifying. It might scritchy-scratch at your deepest insecurities. It might poke the tender, soft, underbelly parts of you. Please do it anyway.
Because of your video, someone might smile for the first time in ten days.
Because of your poem, someone might remember that they love the sound of the rain, and they might turn off their phone and walk to the window and listen.
Because of your book, someone might cry, or laugh, or see the world a little differently, or feel inspired to write their own book, or you might get a surprising email from an agent, publisher, producer, journalist, screenwriter, or maybe one very excited fan who just wants to say, “I love this. Thank you for making it.”
Absolutely anything could happen. But absolutely nothing will happen until you put something out there. Hit publish, post, send, print, or upload, roll up the curtain, iron your best shirt, bring out the fine china, sound the trumpets, whatever needs to be done. Release it with love and with no expectations.
Even if you don’t feel ready.
Toss your pebble into the water and watch the ripple go, go, go, expanding outward into unexpected possibilities, opportunities, and invitations.
There’s no telling where that ripple might lead.
A few years ago, on a trip to London, I met a woman named Clare. She runs a project called Urban Curiosity. We ordered lattes and deliciously buttery breakfast treats, and I asked her, “What’s this project all about?”
It’s pretty simple. Mainly, she leads people on walking tours throughout the city of London. People wander through different neighborhoods, noticing the architecture, noticing the trees, noticing the sky, the clouds, the pets, the people. The only rule is that you have to put away your phone. No photos. No videos. No texting. Just walk.
“I want to inspire people to look up, not down,” Clare told me.
I remember feeling a rush of energy in my body, almost like my skin was tingling, when Clare said those words. I remember thinking, “Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.”
Today, I watched a short film about a man who set up a high-powered telescope on a random sidewalk in Los Angeles and invited strangers to peek inside and look at the moon. It’s incredible how each person — all ages, all kinds of people — react in the same way. “Oh my god. Wow. Just… oh my god.” The filmmaker concludes this tiny, 3-minute film by saying:
“We should look up more often.”
Imagine if we looked up into the sky, and into people’s eyes, as often as we look down at our phones. Imagine the difference it would make. We would all walk around shimmering, awestruck, grateful, just one big collective WOW.
At least once a week, I have one of those weary, frazzled moments when my to-do list feels never-ending… when my inbox feels frighteningly full… when the quarterly reports come in and the book sales aren’t as high as I thought they would be… when I feel very small and very insignificant. Those are the moments when I feel tempted to dive into a digital device to escape and numb out. Instead, next time, I will try to remind myself:
About seven years ago, I released my very first e-book.
It was a tiny book. Ten pages long. Just a wee little thing.
It didn’t take very long to create. In fact, the whole process took less than two days.
First, I drove to my favorite coffee shop. I ordered a triple-shot latte. I was lucky enough to snag a big, cozy, velvet armchair right by the fireplace. I snuggled deep into the cushions. And then I wrote the book in one afternoon. (Again, we’re not talking about War & Peace or Anna Karenina. This was a micro, mini, pint-sized book.)
While working on the book, I pretended like I was writing an extra-long email to a friend.
I didn’t think, “Oh my god, eek, I’m writing a book, I don’t know how to do that…”
Instead, I told myself, “I’m just writing to a friend to share some advice and encouragement. I know how to do that. I do that all the time. No big deal. Easy!” That mindset helped things to flow along pretty quickly.
The next day, I read the Word document aloud to make sure it sounded like “me” — conversational, human, not robotic. I cleaned up a few typos. I added a very basic cover page with the title, my name, and my website. Then I clicked File > Save As > PDF.
And just like that, my very first e-book was… all done!
It was a tiny project, yet it brought me big buckets of joy. Joy, and also satisfaction, pride, and a big boost in confidence. I felt like a “finisher,” not just a “starter” or a “dabbler.” It shifted how I felt about myself as a writer, as an artist, even as a human being. A tiny shift — yet, a big deal.
I love projects of all sizes. But I especially love tiny projects.
A tiny podcast. Each episode could be just five minutes long.
A tiny book. Just twenty pages or less.
A tiny audiobook. Thirty minutes of love.
A tiny event. Six people gathered in your living room.
A tiny mission. Write one “thank you” card every Friday and mail it off.
A tiny moment. Journaling in your diary and writing a poem for nobody else. Just for you.
Once I decide, “I’m going to do a tiny project. Nothing too crazy. Simple and small,” it’s amazing how much R – E – L – I – E – F floods into my body.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel focused, light, and energized. Instead of giving up, I march forward. Instead of feeling inadequate, I feel capable. When I set tiny goals, ironically, I make big moves.
If your heart is feeling heavy… if your to-do list is feeling monstrous… if you’re sick of starting projects and never finishing… I encourage you to hit the DELETE key on everything and switch to a tiny project instead.
Tiny projects can get you unblocked.
Tiny projects can lead to surprising opportunities.
Tiny projects can change many people’s lives. Including yours.
Tiny projects are a big deal.