Interview with Jennifer Louden: “I am almost as much a teacher as I am a writer.”

Jennifer Louden has published nine books with almost a million copies in print in 9 languages. She has been making a mid-six figure living as a writer, teacher, and writing coach for decades.

Jennifer has spoken around the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and has written a national magazine column for Martha Stewart magazine. Plus, she’s been profiled or quoted in dozens of major magazines, two of Brené Brown’s books Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead, appeared on hundreds of TV, radio shows and podcasts, and even on Oprah. 

She has been teaching women’s writing and self-care retreats since 1992 and creating vibrant online communities and innovative learning experiences since 2000. 

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Hi Jen, welcome to Famous Writing Routines! You’re known as a leading voice on self-care and creative transformation, and your book The Woman’s Comfort Book helped launch the concept of self-care. What inspired you to start writing about this topic, and how has your understanding of self-care evolved over the years?

When my book about self-care was published in 1992 I had no idea how to take care of myself. I was researching and writing my book, and I was also teaching myself to be kind to myself. It was a very new idea at that time to think about self-care, outside of going to the doctor for your annual or getting your nails done. Writing The Woman’s Comfort Book not only gave me the start of an amazing career, it also taught me to be a better human.

Fast forward 31 years and I rarely write or talk about self-care and that’s for two reasons: One, it’s become this multi-billion-dollar biz that is often very problematic in what it sells people and how and two, because other writers have come along with important things to say about systemic reasons we can’t take care of ourselves and it’s their turn to own the conversation. 

Your work has reached millions of people worldwide, including appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and features in publications like People and USA Today. What does it mean to you to have such a broad and diverse audience for your work, and how does that impact the way you approach your writing and teaching?

I was very lucky to experience having a big impact early in my career and it taught me to never take that for granted. People’s attention is so precious, I want to always put out ideas and information that is accurate, kind, and helpful, to the best of my ability. It’s taught me to be very grateful. I now work with non-fiction writers on their books and I draw on everything I’ve learned from my good experiences but also my mistakes. 

In addition to your books, you’re also a sought-after speaker and educator. What do you enjoy most about teaching, and how do you approach creating a transformative experience for your students?

I am almost as much a teacher as I am a writer. It lights me up and makes my heart sing to witness someone having an insight or breakthrough. I am fascinated by the power of learning and how I can create conditions to unlock insights that are just below the surface. I think we are so blind to our potential as humans so if I can use journal prompts or breathing or laughter to get someone to see what they are capable of, it’s just the best.

You’ve written several books on different aspects of self-care and personal growth. How do you decide what topics to write about, and how do you develop the ideas and concepts for each book?

Every one of my books has come out of something I was curious and passionate about and wanted to learn more about – often to help myself. I wrote my first book as I said because I wanted to empower women to be kind to themselves but also I wanted to learn how to do that for myself! Every other book has marked a struggle or passage in my life, including my last book Why Bother?: Discover the Desire for What’s Next in which I drew on four difficult years in my life to share ideas to get out of a prolonged funk. 

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I’m curious about your creative process. What does a typical day of writing or creating look like for you, and do you have any particular routines or habits that help you stay inspired and productive?

I’m working on a novel after several failed attempts and I write and think in bed first thing, often in the dark, while drinking coffee with my husband Bob, and my two dogs, Stuart and Willa. Just to be clear, these dogs don’t drink coffee. My deal with myself is I can check email briefly but nothing else gets read or done before I write – no news, no social media, no attending to clients, no planning teaching calls! I also work on the weekends because it’s fun. Something about working in my bed is keeping it fun and lighter than writing in my office.

Your work has been featured in the writings of Brené Brown, who is also known for her work on vulnerability. How do you see your work relating to hers, and do you have any thoughts on the importance of vulnerability in personal growth and self-care?

I met Brene many years ago when I interviewed her for a membership community I owned and ran. During our talk we hit it off and a concept of mine, shadow comforts, resonated with her. For years she talked about it which was wonderful. Shadow comforts are the things you do to comfort and care for yourself that don’t actually make you feel recharged or closer to yourself but instead numb you out.

We turn to shadow comforts for many reasons including we’re too exhausted to give ourselves real self-care or we don’t believe we can have what we truly want or we lack time or we’ve gotten into a rut, to name just a few. It’s very vulnerable for people to ask themselves, “What do I really want right now? What would feel good? What would help me return to myself?” 

These kinds of questions lead you toward real self-care but they require you to feel your feelings, to be brave about asking for what you want from others, to accept your limits, and to face how you might not be able to have what you want. It’s vital we learn to dig deeper into real self-care and it’s why Brene’s work is so valuable. 

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

I’d really like to know how Anthony Trollope wrote so much so consistently. I’d like to be in his brain for an hour!

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?

I am reading a ton of fantasy and climate change books because my novel is a contemporary fantasy with a climate change angle. The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanely Robinson is fantastic as is Babel by R. F. Kuang. I also enjoyed When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill and I adore all of Becky Chambers books. I’d love to put in a plug for my client Lauren Fleshman’s NYT’s bestseller Good for A Girl. It’s a fantastic read even if you aren’t a runner.

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